Skip to main content


Beyond the Border: The Politics of Place in Contemporary North American Literature and Culture (EASM153)

StaffDr Paul Williams - Lecturer
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to

  • encourage students to engage comparatively with the contexts in which mythologies of space and place were formulated historically in the U.S. and Canada
  • stimulate students to frame their readings of contemporary U.S. and Canadian literature and culture within a range of theoretical and contextual frameworks, for example: transnationalism, globalisation, multiculturalism, eco-criticism, feminism, postcolonialism, and cosmopolitanism
  • motivate students to consider the extent to which U.S. and Canadian mythologies of place have been adopted, revised and/or transformed in North American literature and culture since 1970. 
  • consider the place of North American literary texts within the global literary marketplace, particularly as this pertains to questions of prestige and prize-giving.  

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate an advanced capacity to compare and contrast primary material of different forms (literary texts, photography, film), making connections between these forms across the module.
  • 2. demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse contemporary North American literature and culture since 1970 and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context.
  • 3. apply at an advanced level current debates in literary, film, and cultural theory to contemporary North American literature and culture.
  • 4. demonstrate independence and autonomy in critically assessing very recent texts and critical theories, about which very little scholarly commentary yet exists.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. demonstrate a sophisticated and intellectually mature ability to analyse the literature and culture of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical and other contexts.
  • 6. demonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history.
  • 7. demonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts.
  • 8. demonstrate an advanced and precise ability to work from the detail of literary texts, with a full appreciation of their formal aspects.
  • 9. demonstrate an advanced ability to digest, select, and organise interdisciplinary material and to trace the development of debate across disciplinary boundaries.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 10. through seminar work and group presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups.
  • 11. through essay-writing and other assignments, demonstrate advanced research and bibliographic skills, an advanced and intellectually mature capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument and to write clear and correct prose.
  • 12. through research for seminars and essays, demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.
  • 13. through research and writing, demonstrate a capacity to make critical use of secondary material, to question assumptions, and to reflect on their own learning process.

Syllabus plan

The module will run approximately as follows:

·         Introductions

·         Founding Mythologies of Space and Place: Regeneration Through Violence?

·         Writing the West Coast: Popular Fictions of California in the 1970s

·         Beyond the Border: Indigenous Writing from the U.S. and Canada

·         Canadian and U.S. Regionalisms: Prairie Country and Appalachia

·         Mapping the National Past: Louis Riel and Canadian History

·         Cultural Capitals I: New York

·         Cultural Capitals II: Toronto

·         Prize-giving, Prestige and the Global Literary Marketplace: International Booker Prize Winners

·         Adapting Mythologies

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities 2211 x 2-hour seminars
Guided independent study 100seminar preparation (independent)
Guided independent study 178reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar presentation5-10mins1-10, 12Tutorial feedback via tutorial

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Research Report252500 words1-9, 11-13Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up
Essay755000 words1-9, 11-13Written feedback plus tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research ReportResearch Report1-9, 11-13Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1-9, 11-13Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian (1985)

Margaret Laurence, The Diviners (1974)

Chester Brown, Louis Riel (2003)

Alice Munro, Lives of Girls and Women (1971)


Module pack containing selected poems, short stories and essays


Students will also watch the film Taxi Driver (1976) on the module




Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

British Journal of Canadian Studies, Comparative American Studies, Comparative Literature, Canadian Literature, ARIEL, American Literary History, American Quarterly, Modern Fiction Studies, American Literature, Journal of American Studies, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, Canadian Review of American Studies

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Selected secondary sources available in the library:

Adams, Rachel. Continental Divides: Remapping the Cultures of North America.  Chicago: U of Chicago

           P, 2009.

Annesley, James. Fictions of Globalization: Consumption, the Market and the Contemporary American

          Novel.  London: Continuum, 2006.

Bilton, Alan. An Introduction to Contemporary American Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2002. 

Brauner, David. Contemporary American Fiction.  Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2010. 

Crane, Kylie. Mythsof wilderness in contemporary narratives: Environmental postcolonialism in Australia  

          and Canada.  Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Howells, Coral Ann. Margaret Atwood.  Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Kamboureli, Smaro. Scandalous Bodies : Diasporic Literature in English Canada.  Oxford: Oxford UP,


McWilliams, Ellen. Margaret Atwood and the Female Bildungsroman.  Farnham: Ashgate, 2009.

Monk, Nicholas, ed. Intertextual and interdisciplinary approaches to Cormac McCarthy : borders and

          crossings.  New York: Routledge, 2011. 

Roberts, Gillian, Prizing literature: The Celebration and Circulation of National Culture.  Toronto: Toronto

          UP, 2011

Sadowski-Smith, Claudia. Border Fictions : Globalization, Empire, and Writing at the Boundaries of the

         United States.  Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008.

Shostak, Deborah, ed. Philip Roth : American Pastoral, The Human Stain, The Plot Against America.  

         New York : Continuum, 2011

Siemerling, Winfried. The New North American Studies : Culture, Writing and the Politics of Re/cognition.  

         London: Routledge, 2005.

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

American literature, Canada, North America, space, borders, Wild West, prairie, colonial