English 174

Literature and History: The Seventies

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2015 Saul, Scott
TTh 12:30-2 205 Dwinelle

Book List

Didion, Joan: The Book of Common Prayer; Herr, Michael: Dispatches; Kingston, Maxine Hong: The Woman Warrior; LeGuin, Ursula K.: The Dispossessed; Roth, Philip: The Ghost Writer

Other Readings and Media

In addition to the novels and nonfiction listed above, we will be examining a number of films, such as Medium Cool, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, and Saturday Night Fever.


As one historian has quipped, it was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. "The '70s" routinely come in for mockery: even at the time, it was known as the decade when "it seemed like nothing happened."

Yet we can see now that the decade of the '70s was two things at once. On the one hand, it was a time of cultural renaissance—the era that sponsored the New Hollywood of Scorcese, Coppola, et al.; the music of funk, disco, punk and New Wave; the postmodern theater of Saturday Night Live, Sam Shepard and others; the sci-fi boom represented by Ursula LeGuin, Samuel Delany and others; and the quite variously innovative fictions of Philip Roth, Maxine Hong Kingston, Walter Abish, and so many more. On the other hand, it was a period of intense political realignments—for instance, the shock of the oil crisis; the fall of Nixon and the fall of Saigon; the advent of women's liberation, gay liberation, and environmentalism as mass grassroots movements; the rise of the Sunbelt and the dawning of the conservative revolution. One might even say that the '70s were the most interesting decade of the post-WWII era: the period when the dreams of the '60s were most intensely, if achingly, fulfilled.

It may also be the decade closest to our own contemporary moment. In this class, we will consider how the roots of our current predicament lie in the earlier decade--with its uncertainty about the oil supply, its stagnant economy, its alarm at Islamic fundamentalism, its fetish for self-fulfillment, its reality TV and its fascination with the appeal of instant and often empty celebrity. We will, in turn, reflect on how Americans in the '70s struggled with many of the dilemmas that we face now.

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