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Literature 4A: American Literature, 1865-1917: The Age of Realism


Admission requirements

Literature 1A and Literature 2, or equivalent. This is the second of three survey courses in American literature (Lit 3a, 4a, and 5a), which can also be taken individually. This course is an elective course for students taking the minor in American Studies.


The end of the nineteenth century inaugurated a period of vast economic and territorial expansion in the United States. The U.S. became a global industrial superpower fueled by immigration, migration, and invention. Our discussion will focus on three themes: immigration and the rise of the city, regionalization and an American national identity, and the experiences of the emancipation generation. The literature of this period reflects these social movements in what has been called the “Gilded Age.” The emergence of a consumer culture, a national media, and new technologies of transmission had a profound impact on the literary world by 1900, creating a mass market for fiction, a globally recognized canon, and an opportunity for diverse American voices to be heard.

Course objectives

On completing this course, the student will have learned how to:

  • Evaluate works of U.S. American literature at the turn of the century from the standpoint of genre, historical context, and literary conventions.

  • Identify and understand persistent American inequalities rooted in this period, and gain insight into the ways that literature critcally reflects on these cultural and sociohistorical developments.

  • Analyze a wide-range of challenging historical texts using established critical approaches by style, genre, and rhetorical aim.

  • Develop MLA-based and archival research skills in the composition of a term essay, and to improve written communication in English through in-class writing assignments.

  • Communicate ideas in discussion, oral and written presentations, and collaborative team-work.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Seminar

  • Research (Independent study by the student)

Assessment method


  • Midterm Exam: Written Examination with both closed and open essay questions

  • Paper: Essay and analysis of 1500 words

  • Oral Presentation

  • Participation

Attendance is compulsory. Missing more than two tutorials means that students will be excluded from the tutorials. Unauthorized absence also applies to being unprepared, not participating and/or not bringing the relevant course materials to class.


  • Midterm Exam: 30 %

  • Paper: Essay and analysis of 1500 words: 30%

  • Oral Presentation: 30%

  • Participation: 10%


If the final mark is insufficient (below 5.0), students can resit the part(s) that was (were) insufficient: the essay and/or one combined resit exam covering the entire course. The sufficient parts cannot be retaken. Regular attendance, preparation for the class and participation in it are required elements of this course. Students who have been absent for more than 50% of the lectures may not resit the exam and/or paper.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 9th edition or later (Volume C: 1865-1914)

  • Henry James, Washington Square

  • Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

  • Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

  • Other texts TBD


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

General information about MyStudyMap is available on the website

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Student administration Arsenaal


Not applicable.