Literature, Culture, and American Identities

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
June 21, 2021 - July 21, 20216/21 - 7/214 WeeksOnlineWaitlistedOnlineArlen Austin

Course Description

America has been described as a melting pot and a nation of immigrants, but what does it mean to be an “American” and to claim an “American” identity? This course will introduce students to the study of personal and group identity in U.S. literature and culture. Crossing multiple genres, historical periods, and cultural forms (fiction, film, TV), we will examine a diverse range of texts by African American, Asian American, Chicano/Latino, Jewish American, and Native American writers. We will ask how these writers have come to understand the United States, and how they have used literary and cultural expression to represent their own experiences and the experiences of their communities in the U.S.

Situating the U.S. in a global context, we will read a range of authors (from James Baldwin and J.D. Salinger to Gloria Anzaldua and Toni Morrison) whose texts raise questions about the relationship between literature, culture, and American identities. We will look at how “America” itself has been depicted in print and other media, while exploring literature’s role in the construction and representation of national, group, and personal identities. We will also examine several films and television programs, such as Spike Lee’s Bamboozled and ABC’s new sitcom Fresh off the Boat, to better understand how categories such as race, ethnicity, gender, language, and identity have come to define citizenship and national belonging. Through close readings, we will consider themes and theories of nationalism and globalization, immigration and border-crossing, individualism and multiculturalism, community and justice.

This course is designed to expose students to the diversity of contemporary American literature while developing interpretative skills for the close reading and written analysis of texts. By the end of this course, students will be familiar with major concepts in literary and cultural studies such as globalization, democracy, diaspora, genre, and representation. Through an emphasis on intercultural literacy, critical thinking, and writing techniques necessary for effective citizenship, this course will prepare students for a wide-array of college-level humanities classes.

Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course. Students should be seeking to reflect on how their own personal experiences and attitudes have been shaped by cultural and literary representations of American identities and differences.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEEL0985

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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