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ENGL3083 Inventing America

Module Overview

This new module studies writing and visual representation in the early years of the republic of the United States. Focusing on the period from shortly before the American Revolution to the early years of the nineteenth century, this module will introduce students to debates about, and the experience of, the United States of America.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• introduce you to a variety of texts and visual materials that represent the debates about the newly- formed United States of America in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century • enable you to historically contextualise these texts and images • familiarise you with the political and aesthetic debates of the period, primarily in North America but also in Britain. • encourage you to work independently and undertake personal research.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the creation and development of the United States, from British colony to independent republic
  • the role of literature and the arts in this process
  • the role of gender in the construction of early American identities
  • the construction and experience of landscape
  • the distinctions between a range of literary, visual and historical sources
  • the relation between race, nation, slavery and liberty in this early period of US history
  • the key critical approaches, both historically-specific and trans-historical, that have been applied to the study of early US literature
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • read a variety of texts in an historically relevant way
  • develop analysis and discussion based on a range of sources, both published and electronic
  • use electronic sources and a variety of library holdings effectively
  • employ research skills and initiative in identifying additional relevant source material.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • draw upon the different kinds of understanding generated by a range of literary and non-literary texts
  • analyse the pressures and influences which shaped the construction of the American republic
  • contrast different historical, political and theoretical models employed by eighteenth-century and modern writers when engaging with the American Revolution and the new nation
  • make use of contemporary critical writing to inform your thinking about the issues raised in the module.


Focusing on the period from shortly before the American Revolution to the early years of the nineteenth century, this module will introduce students to debates about, and the experience of, the United States of America. It aims to combine conventional ‘literary’ texts, including poetry and fiction, with the wide range of American writing in the early Republic, from letters and diaries, to travel writing, scientific and philosophical treatises, and political rhetoric, but also with visual images including portraiture, landscape and historical painting, cartoons and political satire.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

• Lectures • Tutor-led seminars • Small group work within seminars • Individual research opportunities • One to one tuition around assessment and feedback This module includes a Learning Support Hour. This is a flexible weekly contact hour, designed to support and respond to the particular cohort taking the module from year to year. This hour will include (but not be limited to) activities such as language, theory and research skills classes; group work supervisions; assignment preparation and essay writing guidance; assignment consultations; feedback and feed-forward sessions.

Preparation for scheduled sessions110
Follow-up work24
Completion of assessment task82
Wider reading or practice24
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Warner, William (2013). Protocols of Liberty: Communication Innovation and the American Revolution. 

Samuels, Shirley (1996). Romances of the republic : women, the family, and violence in the literature of the early American nation. 

Wood , Gordon S. (2009). Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. 

Hewitt ,Elizabeth (2004). Correspondence and American literature, 1770-1865. 

Dorothy Z. Baker (2007). America's Gothic Fiction : The Legacy of Magnalia Christi Americana. 

Andrews, William L. et al (ed.). Journeys in New Worlds: Early American Women's Narratives. 

Armstrong, Nancy, and Leonard Tennenhouse (1992). he imaginary puritan : literature, intellectual labor, and the origins of personal life. 

Warner, Michael (1992). The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America. 

Shields, David S. (1990). Oracles of Empire: Poetry, Politics, and Commerce in British America, 1690-1750. 

Lawson-Peebles, Robert (1988). Landscape and written expression in revolutionary America : the world turned upside down. 

Schweitzer, Ivy (2006). Perfecting friendship : politics and affiliation in early American literature. 

Tennenhouse, Leonard (2007). The importance of feeling English: American literature and the British diaspora, 1750-1850. 

Eberwein, Jane Donahue (ed.) (1986). Early American Poetry: Selections from Bradstreet, Taylor, Dwight, Frenea & Bryant. 

Carla Mulford, ed. Early American Writings. 

Paul Giles (2001). Transatlantic Insurrections: British Culture and the Formation of American Literature, 1760-1860. 


Assessment Strategy

The assessed essay requires independent use of online and other archives to explore life in the early United States. You will choose your own selection of documents and images to provide a case study and analysis of American life, drawn from themes including cities (Boston, Philadelphia, New York), rural life and the frontier, the rhetoric of freedom, the experience of slavery, Revolution and Loyalism, scientific and geographical exploration, women’s lives, views from abroad. Written feedback on assignments will be accompanied by individual consultation.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 50%
Timed Assignment  (48 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


All resources are available online and in the Hartley Library though students may choose to buy some of the set texts.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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