Documentary America: Non-Fiction Writing (Q3142)

30 credits, Level 6

Spring teaching

The study of American fiction often precludes an examination of some of the best writing and forms of self-representation that America has produced. This includes political and photo-essays, social science publications, journalism and reportage.

This module explores the development of iconic non-fictional American literature and its relation with other forms of documentary representation (such as film and photography) from the 19th to 20th century.

We look at the style, content and circulation of non-fictional forms. We examine them within wider discourses of cultural, social and political representation.

You'll look at a variety of examples of documentary literary genres, including:

  • the insertion of the “I” in nineteenth century journalism and undercover reportage in the slums
  • Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘ethnographic’ preservation of folk ‘lies’
  • the use of documentary aesthetics in plays and poetry
  • the development of postmodern documentary aethetics.

You also examine how these forms intersect with the development of modernist and postmodernist literature in the US, and with the historical events they attempt to represent.

For this module, you read from a broad selection of materials that do not necessarily fit into conventional literary genres. We analyse why writers and artists represent events in the way they do and the wider cultural impact of those forms.


100%: Seminar


100%: Coursework (Group presentation, Portfolio)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 22 hours of contact time and about 278 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2022/23. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to COVID-19, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: