Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module ENGL43630: Blood and Soil: Regionalism and Contemporary US Crime Narrative

Department: English Studies

ENGL43630: Blood and Soil: Regionalism and Contemporary US Crime Narrative

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2020/21 Module Cap 20


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • This module aims to provide students with a rigorous but open-ended introduction to contemporary regional crime narrative in the United States. It has a particular focus on the subgenre sometimes referred to as ‘country noir’ (a term coined by Daniel Woodrell to describe his 1996 novel Give Us a Kiss). To these ends, it will combine close textual analysis with broader explorations of the social, political, economic and ecological factors that frame and inform the production of such fictions.
  • The module investigates some of the complex ways in which regional crime narrative — away from the metropolitan and/or cosmopolitan spaces so closely associated with the form — responds to the deep transformations of the neoliberal era (just as influential studies of, say, Chandler and Hammett have sought to demonstrate the link between the emergence of hard-boiled fiction and the New Deal).
  • The module aims to examine how crime narrative might reinforce and/or complicate notions of regional rootedness and identity (especially with regard to white masculinity), as well as broader imaginative/geographical categories such as ‘the South’ and ‘the West’.
  • The module seeks to highlight the connections and differences between a variety of storytelling media (novels, short stories, film, television). In doing so, it encourages a comparative, interdisciplinary approach to regional crime narrative.
  • The module aims to complement and expand the range of options at Masters level in US and/or contemporary fiction.


  • This module explores the regional dynamics of contemporary US crime narrative. It places a special emphasis on fictional works set in rural and/or blue-collar environments in the American South and West. With this in mind, many (but not all) of the texts studied could be described as belonging to the ‘country noir’ subgenre or, more disparagingly, as examples of ‘hicksploitation’. The module is significantly inspired by the ‘New Southern Studies’ — an interdisciplinary field named by Houston A. Baker, Jr. — and also by a much broader, postmillennial reappraisal of the stereotypes, myths and traumas associated with regional fiction and identity. It will typically cover novels and short stories by writers such as Daniel Woodrell, Elmore Leonard, James Lee Burke, Rolando Hinojosa, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Donald Ray Pollock and Tom Franklin, as well as film adaptations such as Winter’s Bone and television shows such as Justified and True Detective. It seeks to examine the material and imaginative processes behind these gruesomely compelling depictions of murder and meth labs. The module pays particular attention to the ways in which crime narrative both indulges and challenges the idea of regional ‘rootedness’ and to the ethical questions raised by the representation of violence, hardscrabble poverty and prejudice in fragile yet defiantly persistent communities. Core texts will be grouped together according to State/region/locality - e.g. Hinojosa’s Klail City Death Trip series might be studied alongside, say, Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men or the John Sayles mystery film Lone Star; the post-Katrina aspects of True Detective might be discussed in relation to Burke’s Louisiana-set Robicheaux novels. This structure is designed to encourage informed comparisons and an immersive sense of geographical specificity. Where appropriate, the module will draw on cutting-edge developments in ecocriticism, labour history, gender and ethnic studies, and the energy humanities.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students studying this module will develop:
  • an extensive and detailed knowledge of contemporary US crime narrative and a sophisticated understanding of the ‘rural noir’ subgenre.
  • a clear awareness of scholarship on US crime fiction and broader scholarly paradigms such as the New Southern Studies.
  • an interrogative and critically-engaged understanding of region as a material/imaginative construct;
  • a rounded, interdisciplinary appreciation of the complex relationships between prose fiction, film and television.
  • an advanced understanding of the relationships (and distinctions) between ‘highbrow’ and ‘popular’ culture.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • advanced critical skills in the analysis of literary/filmic/televisual texts;
  • an ability to offer advanced analysis of formal and aesthetic dimensions of literature, film and television;
  • an ability to articulate and substantiate at a high level an imaginative response to literature, film and television;
  • an ability to research, critique and apply the cultural, intellectual, socio-political and linguistic contexts of literature, film and television;
  • an ability to articulate an advanced knowledge and understanding of conceptual or theoretical material relevant to the study of literature, film and television;
  • an advanced command of a broad range of vocabulary and 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 their knowledge, analytic literary judgment, conceptual reasoning, independent thought and verbal presentation through seminar discussions and non-assessed seminar presentations. These skills will add to their capacity for advanced independent study which will be tested by the completion of two assessed essays.
  • 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 Weekly in Epiphany term 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 1 3,000 words 40%
Summative Essay 2 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