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7ABA0018 Myth After Slavery

Credit value: 20
Module convenor: Dr Justine McConnell
Assessment: 1 x 5,000 word essay (100%)
Teaching pattern: One two-hour seminar weekly
Pre-requisites: None

Reassessment: Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Module description

Myth has often been used to record and disseminate a people’s history, identity and culture; during times of conflict and rupture, this becomes all the more crucial.  This module looks at the way myths from ancient Greece, Africa, and the Americas, have been recast by writers in the wake of slavery. We examine how myths have been reconfigured and redeployed by modern writers, and ask why myth still has such potency in the modern age.

Examining texts that are, in varied and complex ways, concerned with the legacy of slavery, we will explore how myth is used to combat the inequity that this history engendered, and to signal a path towards a different future.  We will analyse the works of some of the foremost African diaspora writers of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries, exploring the ways in which they enact a new kind of mythopoesis.  In the light of postcolonial theory, in particular ideas of ‘writing back’ and Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s theory of ‘Signifyin(g)’, we will explore the place of myth in modern fiction and the ways in which myth continues to be adapted, refigured, and even created, in contemporary literature.

Educational aims and objectives

To enable students to analyse and critically comment on the use of mythological tropes from Greece, Africa, and the Americas, by writers whose work is informed by the history of slavery and its legacy.  Students will examine a wide range of texts by writers of the African diaspora, and will evaluate key methodologies, while developing their own analytic skills and suggesting new approaches to and readings of the material.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practical skills appropriate to a Level 7 module, and in particular will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a deep and systematic understanding of the ways in which myth has been refigured by writers in the wake of slavery.
  • Develop critical responses to current theoretical and methodological concepts surrounding the use of mythological tropes in literature, and suggest new approaches as a result.
  • Employ advanced skills in independent research and communicate findings effectively.
  • Apply knowledge regarding the use of myth in literature creatively even in less familiar contexts, synthesising ideas and information, and generating new solutions.
  • Reflect on the way the study of myth in literature relates to other relevant disciplines (such as history, Africana studies, postcolonial studies, performance studies, and classical reception studies) and evaluate the effectiveness of a range of methodological approaches.

Core reading

All the primary texts are in print and are available to borrow or buy.

The following books provide a good introduction to some of the themes of this module:

  • Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.
  • Derek Walcott, What the Twilight Says: Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.

Additional course costs

Students may wish to buy their own copies of the primary texts, but this will not be mandatory, as all texts studied are available from the library.

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

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