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Washington State University
Donna M. Campbell American Literature

English 573: Critical Regionalism (Fall 2024)

ENGLISH 573, Critical Regionalism, Race, and Nationalism in U. S. Literature

Donna Campbell

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:30-2:45


This seminar explores American regional literature of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the late nineteenth century, local color or regionalism served as a national forum for concerns over Gilded Age capitalism, urbanization, and the emergence of literary professionalism, and it became a means of engaging in national debates over immigration, imperialism, race, and nationalism. By the end of the twentieth century, regionalism in its newer forms, including critical regionalism, had become a means of exploring multicultural perspectives that underlie urban ethnic realism and the contact zones of contested ethnic spaces, such as the Southwestern U.S.-Mexico border. This course addresses these contact zones and the effects of colonization, focusing on critical regionalism and marginalized authors of color, particularly Native American writers in the West.


Readings at present include work from Beth Piatote, Zitkala-Sa, Sui Sin Far, María Cristina Mena, Sara Orne Jewett, James Welch, Mourning Dove, Louise Erdrich, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton; archival materials and additional sources will be added.


Critical and theoretical readings will include essays from among the following: June Howard, Krista Comer, Gloria Anzaldùa, Samaine Lockwood, Bill Brown, Lucy Lippard, Douglas Powell, Benedict Anderson, José Límon, Hsuan Hsu, Cari Carpenter, Philip Deloria, Yi-Fu Tuan, Gerald Vizenor, Paul Giles.


Themes and subjects include the following:

  • Colonialism and diaspora; cultures of U.S. imperialism at home and abroad (Amy Kaplan).
  • Cultures of theft and appropriation in regional literature: collections and fantasies of a vanishing past; souvenirs (Susan Stewart).
  • Anthropology and the “science” of acquisition and (Cather, The Professor’s House); fetishization of artifacts and struggles over repatriation; Immigration, migration, and transnationalism; policing of territories, boundaries, borders, bodies; constructions and practices of labor (Gloria Anzaldúa).
  • Race, heredity, ethnicity: anthropological, biological, or cultural definitions; hidden signifiers; passing; “foreign” and familiar characters; white supremacist colonial past.
  • Disability, illness, and age as the province of regional literature: Jewett’s “Poor Joanna,” Wharton’s Ethan Frome,
  • Queer regionalism, gothic regionalism, and the supernatural (ghost stories, cryptids, and signifiers of the other) (Samaine Lockwood, Fetterley & Pryse, etc.).
  • Technologies: of seeing, of representation, of travel, of circulating goods and services; of folkways, including medical and food cultures.
  • Ecocritical concerns, region as a national reserve (Timothy Clark, Benjamin Morgan, Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Hsuan Hsu).
  • Cultures of waste, loss, extraction and transportation industries; “development” and “preservation” as contested terms.
  • Place: definitions of place, boundaries, bridges; place as temporal rather than spatial; urbanization and vanishing spaces.
  • Geographies of region and nation: when does “a people” become “a nation” and who decides? Also, settlement, borderlands, empire, appropriation of territories; cosmopolitanism: can the region exist without the structures and sentiment of the city?
  • Competing narratives of possession and dispossession; collections, artifacts, material objects, nostalgia; archives—whose archives? how constructed? how collected? how defined?; and appropriation and repatriation.
  • Temporal and affective dimensions of regionalism: the past; emotion and sentimentality; nostalgia.
  • Communities and individuals: individualism within cultures and communities; outsiders; spectators; foodways and folkways; reciprocity and gift-giving; sites and rituals of inclusion; customs and transgressions.


Assignments are all geared toward eventual presentation or publication:

  • a 30-minute oral presentation (20%);
  • minor 5-minute presentations of critical material during which the student is the “article expert” and class participation (15%);
  • some kind of archival digital project involving the MASC (editing or mapping, 20%)
  • a short paper or project (8-10 pages); and
  • a seminar-length paper or project (15-25 pages), either a critical essay or an editing or digital recovery project such as working with the Winnifred Eaton (Onoto Watanna) archive or working in the MASC archives.