What is Literary History?

This course involves first and foremost a sustained look at literary history—an aspect of our field that we often take for granted, deem to be narrow and outmoded as a way of thinking about literature, or displace in favor of theorizing about or historicizing texts. But what is literary history a history of? Master works? The development of national literatures? The coming to voice of subordinated groups? The evolution, emergence, and obsolescence of genres? Or perhaps an account of the effect of broader socioeconomic forces on literary production? Does literary history have a theory? And what is the relation of literary history to practical criticism? As we consider these questions we will pay particular attention to 20th-century African American literature. Students will be expected to give an in-class presentation and to write two 10-page essays or one 20-page essay.

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Warren, Kenneth