Course Description

What is the “real”?  How is “reality” constructed?  What are the different forms, genres, and media that express the “real” historically?  We live in a culture where reality television and digital media are augmenting reality through a range of programs and protocols, from first person video games to the competitive nature of Survivor to the simulated interfaces of Google Glass.  Everywhere reality is simulated, mediated, and augmented, making it ever important to understand the history of realism as an aesthetic and literary mode of representation.

In this course, we’ll trace the emergence of realism back to the late nineteenth century, specifically the history of literary realism and naturalism in the United States.  We’ll consider realism as an aesthetic of representation, but also as a method of recording and processing what constitutes reality.  How do authors mediate and augment the “real” in different ways?  What stylistic forms do they innovate and how do these innovations respond to historical media like the typewriter, cinema, and phonograph?  In addition to literary texts by American realists and naturalists, we’ll also engage literature in dialogue with other realist modes of representation, including visual art, film, photography, and early sound recording.  At the same time, we’ll also consider the emergence of realism in the broader context of region, class, race, gender, immigration, urbanization, popular culture, journalism, philosophy, and science.  Course requirements include in-class and online participation, regular blog posts, a cultural context paper, and a culminating unessay assignment.

Course Information:

  • ENG 471: American Realism (“Realism & Recording”)
  • Fall 2014, MW 2:00-3:15 PM
  • Location: Liberal Arts Building 201

Professor Information:

  • Professor Craig Carey, University of Southern Mississippi
  • Email Address:
  • Office Phone: (601) 266-4072
  • Office: Liberal Arts Building 342
  • Office Hours: MW 3:30-4:30 and F 11:00-12:00; and by appt.

Course goals and Objectives:

  • To understand the history and significance of literary realism in the United States and to situate realism in comparative and multimedia context
  • To understand how questions of realism continue to inform debates about digital culture; and to articulate and navigate the implications of those questions through a variety of methods
  • To consider how cultural, political, and technological conditions informed the emergence of realism in the United States and continue to be felt in contemporary cultural expressions.
  • To read across a variety of genre and media, contextualizing forms of expression in the wider context of historical and cultural forces.
  • To understand “realism” as a category that encompasses not just literature, but other art and media including photography, painting, voice recording, architecture, and computing.
  • To critically synthesize and articulate their ideas across multimodal compositions
  • To self-consciously appropriate digital technologies as a means to connect, communicate, and critical deform traditional notions of literature and literary realism.



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