American Literature


For those interested in American literatures and cultures, we draw upon the Department's commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry to provide students with the opportunity to explore several dimensions of scholarship and critical inquiry.

The faculty and graduate students in the program in American literatures and cultures address a variety of literary traditions and cultural practices (such as the visual arts, religion, politics, and law) from national and transnational perspectives. We have strength in all historical periods. Our methodological approaches range from formal analysis of poetic, narrative, and generic structures, through comparatist approaches, to the historical analysis of gendered and racial subject formations in local and global contexts.

Theoretical orientations include: Marxism and Frankfurt School critical theory, psychoanalysis, feminism, queer theory, materialist phenomenology, and aesthetic theory. Such orientations and approaches do not necessarily exclude one another; indeed, their principled convergence often enables especially productive analysis.

Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893
Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893

Given this plurality of interests, our fields of critical investigation are wide-ranging. In addition to more traditionally defined areas of scholarship, our work addresses a variety of media (including print, sound, photography, and film) and discursive genres (including confessional literature, political treatises, and legal cases). We have particular strength in African American literary and film studies, gender studies, cinema and media studies, and histories and theories of the public sphere, as well as of privacy and intimacy.

Typically, students also involve themselves with one or more of the interdisciplinary centers (such as the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, or the Center for Latin American Studies). And, as all graduate students are expected to do at Chicago, they join at least one graduate workshop (where work-in-progress, readings, and occasional lectures are discussed by students and faculty), such as the American Literatures and Cultures Workshop, the Poetry and Poetics Workshop, and the Mass Culture Workshop. Finally, students take advantage of the University's and city's extraordinary scholarly resources -- the Regenstein Library and its Special Collections; the Newberry Library; the Chicago Public Library; the DuSable Museum of African American History; the Chicago History Museum; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art; and the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Note: The American Field is not a distinct program, but rather an area of focus within the Department of English. Prospective applicants interested in the study of American literature and culture should follow the application procedures described on the Department's homepage.

Specific Areas of Study

  • Colonial and Postcolonial American Literature
  • Nineteenth-Century American Literature
  • Twentieth-Century American Literature
  • African American Literature
  • Asian American Literature
  • Latina/o Literature
  • Spanish American Literature


Faculty Members

Bill Brown

Bill Brown

Research Interests: Research Interests: Marxism | Cinema Studies | History of Literary Criticism | Literature and the Arts | The Novel | Urban Studies | Visual Culture and Iconography

Patrick Jagoda

Research Interests: Critical Theory | Contemporary Literature | Cinema Studies | Cultural Studies| Digital Humanities | Game Studies | History of Science | Literature and Philosophy | Literature and the Arts

William Veeder

Research Interests: 19th/20th Century American and British Literature | Victorian Literature | The Novel