11.0612 20th-century American Bestsellers (an invitation)

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Tue, 3 Mar 1998 14:47:10 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 612.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Fri, 27 Feb 1998 19:39:33 -0500
From: John Unsworth <jmu2m@virginia.edu>
Subject: 20th-century American Bestsellers (an invitation)

I'm writing Humanist to find out whether, among its subscribers, there are any
who might be interested in teaching a course on 20th-century American
bestsellers and having their students contribute to a web-accessible database
of information about those books. I have designed and set up all the database
and cgi mechanisms for doing this, and I am teaching my own version of this
course in the current semester: others could choose different sets of assigned
reading, but the basic course design and (in particular) the design of the
assignments would need to remain constant, and the information compiled by
students would need to be centrally collected, as part of the database already

I'll give a brief description of the course design and the assignments here,
but I invite anyone who might be interested in more information to take a look
at the current course web site, at
http://www.engl.virginia.edu/courses/entc312/s98/ and especially, to look at
the student work in progress, which can be found under the link labeled
the Bestsellers Database" off that course home page.

My hope in designing this course was that students could compile a useful
research resource in the course of doing their own research--research which
makes an excellent and intensive introduction to library resources (print and
online), research methods, bibliography, and literary history. My hope in
inviting others to take part in the project is that, collectively, we might
complete this resource in a few years, rather than the dozen or more that it
will take me to do so if I keep the course to myself.

What follows is some material excerpted from the class home page, to describe
the course and its assignments more fully. If you're interested in taking
in this experiment, please email me at jmu2m@virginia.edu.


John Unsworth


Course Description:

In this course, we will use 20th-century American literature as a means of
understanding 20th-century America. We will do so by reading best-selling
novels--at least one from each decade--and analyzing the causes and components
of their popularity. Non-fiction best-sellers will also be considered, we will
watch film versions of the assigned readings, and supplementary reading will
focus on American history, the publishing industry, and the profession of
authorship in America.


Students will be required to complete a series of assignments during the
semester, focused on a single best-seller (chosen from the lists of
by decade, below, but not one of the required readings for the course). These
assignments will comprise a bibliographical description of a first edition, a
publication history (including performances in other media, if any), a
biographical sketch of the author, a reception history, and a critical
of the work in its cultural and literary contexts. All of these assignments
will be submitted online, using Web-based submission forms: they will become
part of an ongoing project to compile a Web-accessible database of information
about best-selling 20th-century American literature. For each assignment,
students will also submit a printed list of the sources used in completing the
online submission, listed by assignment subsection.

Required Reading:

Thomas Dixon, Jr., The Clansman
Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna
Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry
Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
Lillian Smith, Strange Fruit
Lloyd C. Douglas, The Robe
Grace Metalious, Peyton Place
John Le Carré, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Alex Haley, Roots
Stephen King, It
John Grisham, The Firm

[NB: required books are not available to be chosen by students during the
in which they are assigned. The list of assigned books would, of course,
be at the
discretion of the instructor, and could be selected to highlight any of a
large variety of themes and concerns.]

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