Summer 2009

HUMS 630
Contemporary Historical Fiction


06/29/2009 - 07/31/2009
Tuesday & Thursday 05:30 PM - 08:30 PM

Downey 100

This course looks at a number of ambitious historical fictions published in the United States since the appearance of Toni Morrison's now-canonical novel, Beloved. We will consider why the historical novel and other fictions that do history or interrogate our notions of history have become so prominent in the literary landscape of the United States. We will read works that experiment with form and those that follow in the classic realist tradition and examine how different forms of representation make different kinds of history. A number of the works we will read (such as Beloved and Blood Meridian) draw on known historical sources to re-imagine the United States in the nineteenth-century. We will use these source materials to consider how writers transform the past into fiction--and try our hands at the process of making historical fiction in a brief creative writing exercise.

Our discussions will be shaped by a number of pertinent questions: What is the relation between primary sources (whether based in fact or fiction) or "history" and the fictional worlds we encounter? What, more particularly, are the relations among historical personages (Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, or JFK) and invented characters? How does the increasing authority of memoir and autobiography or pop-culture and media, shape the kind of history these fictions create? What, moreover, is the relation between domestic private life and public history? How, finally, can fictions be historical and in what sense do they do history?

Major texts may include: Beloved by Toni Morrison, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Cloudsplitter by Russel Banks, Abe by Richard Slotkin, Henry and Clara by Thomas Fallon, March by Geraldine Brooks, Amalgamation Polka by Stephen Wright, Angels in America by Tony Kushner, Libra by Don Dillo, The Plot Against America by Philip Roth.

Required course work includes a brief presentation on historical source materials, a 4-5 p.p. critical paper (close-reading of one novel), a 4-5 p.p. creative rewrite of historical narrative, and a 10-15 p.p. critical paper.

Course tuition: $2022

A syllabus for this course is available at:
Course Syllabus

Charles Baraw (BA University of Vermont; MA Middlebury College; PHD Yale University) is a visiting assistant professor of English. His current book project is Hawthorne and the Travelling Eye: Tourism and Nineteenth-century American Literary Culture, which examines the role of aesthetics in travel, apprehension, narrative structure, and the development of professional authorship in the United States. Click here for more information about Charles Baraw.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Russell Banks, THE CLOUDSPLITTER (Harper Perennial), Paperback

Don Delillo, LIBRA (Penguin), Paperback

Cormac McCarthy, BLOOD MERIDIAN (Vintage), Paperback

Toni Morrison, BELOVED (Vintage), Paperback

Toni Morrison, A MERCY (Knopf), Paperback

Philip Roth, AMERICAN PASTORAL (Vintage), Paperback

Philip Roth, THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA (Vintage), Paperback

Stephen Wright, THE AMALGAMATION POLKA (Vintage), Paperback


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