Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module ENGL42730: The Contemporary US Novel

Department: English Studies

ENGL42730: The Contemporary US Novel

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap 20


  • •Students must hold a good BA degree in English or a related subject to be eligible for entry onto the MA in English Literary Studies.


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • Building upon analytical and investigative skills developed at undergraduate level, this module will offer students an advanced survey of the American novel since the end of the Cold War.
  • The module will pay particular attention to questions concerning how we might productively engage, and categorize, the literature of the present
  • The module complements other modules at Masters level and widens the options available in American and “contemporary” literature.


  • This module offers an advanced survey of the American novel since the end of the Cold War. We will begin with fiction concerned with questions of epochal/millennial transformation and historical retrospection before moving on to consider a range of topics: the legacies of postmodernism and the Cold War; representing 9/11; the rise and fall of the dot-com economy; the cultures of contemporary reading; new understandings of the complexity of ecology and our impact on it; the idea of character and consciousness in an age that is simultaneously scientific and post-secular; and the fate of the novel in the era of electronic media. Throughout the course we will be interested in questions of canon formation, and the special challenges of working on the literary history of our immediate present.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will acquire a sense of the development of the US novel over the last 25 years.
  • Students will also gain an understanding of the criticism devoted to recent US literature.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • advanced critical skills in the close reading and analysis of literary texts;
  • an ability to demonstrate advanced knowledge of a chosen field of literary studies;
  • an ability to offer advanced analysis of formal and aesthetic dimensions of literature;
  • an ability to articulate and substantiate at a high level an imaginative response to literature;
  • an ability to demonstrate an advanced understanding of
  • the cultural, intellectual, socio-political and linguistic contexts of literature;
  • an ability to articulate an advanced knowledge and understanding of conceptual or theoretical literary material;
  • an advanced command of a broad range of vocabulary and critical literary terminology.
Key Skills:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • an advanced ability to analyse critically;
  • an advanced ability to acquire complex information of diverse kinds in structured and systematic ways;
  • an advanced ability to interpret complex information of diverse kinds through the distinctive skills derived from the subject;
  • expertise in conventions of scholarly presentation and bibliographical skills;
  • an independence of thought and judgement, and ability to assess acutely the critical ideas of others;
  • sophisticated skills in critical reasoning; an advanced ability to handle information and argument critically;
  • a competence in information-technology skills such as word-processing and electronic data access;
  • professional organisation and time-management skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students are encouraged to develop advanced conceptual abilities and analytical skills as well as the ability to communicate an advanced knowledge within seminars.
  • The capacity for advanced independent study is demonstrated through the completion of two summative pieces of work (3,000 words in length).
  • Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 Fortnightly in the Michaelmas and Epiphany terms 2 hours 18
Independent student research supervised by the Module Convenor 10
Preparation and reading 272
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative essay 3,000 words 40%
Summative essay 3,000 words 60%

Formative Assessment:

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University