English 174

Literature and History: The 1970s

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2021 Saul, Scott
MWF 10-11

Book List

Kingston, Maxine Hong: The Woman Warrior; LeGuin, Ursula: The Dispossessed; Morrison, Toni: Song of Solomon

Other Readings and Media

Other works that we will be studying may include the following:


Medium Cool (dir. Haskell Wexler, 1969)

The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorcese, 1976)

Network (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1976)

Saturday Night Fever (dir. John Badham, 1977)

Fiction and Poetry

Walter Abish, “Ardor/Awe/Atrocity” (1977)

Rosario Ferré, "The Youngest Doll" (1976)

Adrienne Rich, “Trying to Talk with a Man” (1971), “Diving into the Wreck” (1973)


Selections from Richard Nixon: Speeches, Writings, Documents, ed. Rick Perlstein (2007)

Adrienne Rich, “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” (1976)

James Fallows, “What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?” (1975)

Michael Herr, Dispatches (1977), selections

Joan Didion, “The White Album,” from The White Album (1979)

Richard Dyer, “In Defence of Disco” (1979)

Tom Wolfe, “The ‘Me’ Decade and the Third Great Awakening” (1976)

Alice Echols, selections from Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture (2010)

Jimmy Carter and the Energy Crisis of the 1970s (2005), ed. Daniel Horowitz, selections

Dear People: Remembering Jonestown (2005), ed. Denice Stephenson, selections

Ronald Reagan, “Time to Recapture Our Destiny” and First Inaugural Address


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. We will consider how the roots of our current predicament lie in the earlier decade — with its backlash against movements for racial justice, its gun culture, its corruption of the political process, its fetish for self-fulfillment, 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.

The last time this course was taught, the students in the class collaborated to produce "The Godfather: Anatomy of a Film" -- a site that approaches the film from 19 different angles (and that now receives around 300-400 visitors per day). We will aim to produce a similarly collective project about another artistic touchstone of the 1970s.

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