Tenements, factories, the stock market, telephones, railroads, electricity, photography, movies, department stores, and automobiles: how did American writers experience and describe these now-familiar elements of our society for the first time? The period of 1860-1920 in America was one of incredible technological, economic and social change, and writers like Stephen Crane, Henry James, Frank Norris and Edith Wharton depicted these changes with a vivid urgency. Their works express everything from disgust to elation about the experience of modern urban life, but what they all shared was an unshakeable fascination with even the most ordinary—and especially the most lurid—details of everyday life. This course asks the following question: what can this literary obsession with detail teach us about reading critically and writing persuasively?
In this course, you will reflect upon, analyze and interrogate the works of late 19th century American writers—and some photographers and filmmakers, too—through your own writing. This writing course focuses on the creation of complex, analytic, well-supported arguments that matter in academic contexts. You will work closely with you peers and with me to develop your written prose. Readings cover a variety of different genres, with a primary focus on literary texts. In addition to producing four polished pieces of analytical writing about the texts we discuss in class, you will also be responsible for writing a collection of shorter, more informal pieces that reflect on both our texts and your own writing process more generally. Each of the four formal writing assignments will be workshopped at various points during the writing process. Providing thoughtful, timely feedback to your peers during workshops and responding usefully to the feedback on your writing that you receive is also a crucial component of this course.