ENGLISH 317 - Literature and Culture
Section: 001 Rust Belt Narratives
Term: WN 2018
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May be repeated for a maximum of 6 credit(s). May be elected more than once in the same term.
Primary Instructor:

The history of the early twentieth century is, in many ways, a history of manufacturing. From the automobile to the airplane, the refrigerator to the toaster, the United States was a country that produced things. And the “Rust Belt” cities like Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati were at the heart of this economic and social progress.

Similarly, because industry needed labor, this story of production was also one of immigration. It’s true that life in the factories, mills, and forges was not an easy life — not by any means. To romanticize it would be naïve and foolish. But in many ways it was the foundation of the middle class and the American Dream, bound up with an ideal that work was necessary and valuable and could provide a means for community and stability.

Yet in the 1970s and 1980s, as the economy began its shift from Industry to Information, these once thriving cities began to decline. Smoke stacks no longer symbolized progress but blight. So what is the Rust Belt narrative today? What stories are being told about this place? And what can they show us about ourselves?

We’ll also try to define the Rust Belt’s geographic and social boundaries, examine the intersections of its politics and culture, and discuss the socio-economic factors that are bound up in the history of the region.

To answer these questions we’ll read fiction written by Rust Belt authors grappling with issues of place, identity, work, class, and gender. We’ll also supplement our readings with essays on literary theory and criticism.

Readings will be selected from such books as:

  • American Salvage, by Bonnie Jo Campbell
  • The Turner House, by Angela Flourney
  • Crooked River Burning, by Mark Weingardner
  • Blood on the Forge, by William Attaway
  • American Rust, by Philip Meyer
  • Look at Me, by Jennifer Egan
  • How to Interpret Literature, by Robert Dale Parker

Course Requirements:

Coursework will include two major essays (6-7 pages in length), a mid-term exam, and a final exam.

Intended Audience:

Juniors and seniors

Class Format:

Large class discussion

ENGLISH 317 - Literature and Culture
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
TuTh 4:00PM - 5:30PM
002 (LEC)
MW 1:00PM - 2:30PM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

ISBN: 9781590171349
Blood on the forge, Author: William Attaway., Publisher: New York Review Books 2005
ISBN: 9780156014229
Crooked river burning., Publisher: Harvest Books 2001
ISBN: 9780385721356
Look at me : a novel, Author: Jennifer Egan., Publisher: Anchor Books 1st Anchor 2002
ISBN: 9780385527521
American rust, Author: Philipp Meyer., Publisher: Spiegel & Grau Spiegel & 2010
ISBN: 9780544705166
The Turner House, Author: Angela Flourney, Publisher: Mariner Books 2016
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