English 174

Literature and History: The 1970s

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2018 Saul, Scott
TTh 11-12:30 310 Hearst Mining


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 ’70s was a time of cultural renaissance. It gave us the New Hollywood of Scorcese, Coppola and others; the music of funk, disco, punk and New Wave; the postmodern comedy of Saturday Night Live and the postmodern drama of Off-Off-Broadway; and a great range of literary fiction written by women authors from Ursula LeGuin and Margaret Atwood to Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston. It was also a period of intense political realignments — the moment the United States was roiled by the oil crisis, the fall of Nixon and the fall of Saigon; by the advent of women’s liberation, gay liberation, and environmentalism as mass grassroots movements; and by 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.

Lastly, the ’70s may 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 backlash against movements for racial justice, its alarm at Islamic fundamentalism, its fetish for self-fulfillment, its reality TV and its fascination with the appeal of instant celebrity. We will, in turn, reflect on how Americans in the ’70s struggled with many of the dilemmas that we face now.

The course takes a wide-gauged approach to the 'culture' of the 1970s, and so we will be examing a diverse mix of primary texts: fiction by Toni Morrison, Ursula LeGuin, Maxine Hong Kingston and others; a wide variety of films (The Godfather, Taxi DriverSaturday Night Fever, and others); the music of soul and disco; and various documents from the political spectrum, from right to left.

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