English 610: Studies in Nineteenth-Century British Literature

Cr. 3.

A study of significant movement in American literature, such as Romanticism, Naturalism, or Realism, or a group of writers linked regionally, ethnically, or in some other way. Special attention is paid to cultural contexts.

Sponberg, New Ideas in Midwestern Literature.

Explores the prose, poetry, and drama of twelve states: Illinois, Indiana,  Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Some define the Midwest as the region of the country about which we continually ask the question, “What is the Midwest?” One rarely asks that question more than once about New England, the South, or the West. Other regions’ markers – accents, foods, and music, for example – have strongly imprinted the popular imagination.  Similarly the political and economic struggles of the other regions seem to have generated a much larger number of events and personalities that seize the attention of scholars and entertainers. Furthermore, the literatures of the East, South, and West have dominated literary scholars’ imaginations.

Recent scholarship aims to reverse those understandings.  The Midwest does have its own historic struggles for the care of the environment, the survival of farm families, the dignity of industrial workers, the building of great cities, recovery of respect for Native American values, and the equality of all people, especially women, gays, Blacks, and Hispanics, and new waves of immigrants from around the world.  Of course, the Midwest shares these struggles with the rest of the country and all humanity, but they take distinctive forms in the Midwest, as the region’s literary and visual arts bear excellent and eloquent witness.

The “old ideas” in Midwestern literature focus almost entirely on experiences of rural and small town life.  Excellent writers such as Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser, and Sinclair Lewis defined our nation’s understanding of “Midwestern Literature.” 

Since 1980, however, Midwestern writers focus on complex relationships among a growing and diverse population who experience the full range of challenges raised by modern urban and suburban living. New writers such as Bonnie Jo Campbell, Chad Harbach, and Scott Russell Sanders are redefining the meaning of “Midwestern Literature.”

Guest lecturers in several related fields (geography, history, politics, economics, visual and performing arts) provide historical and cultural contexts for the literature.