English 174

Literature and History: The Seventies

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2022 Saul, Scott
TuTh 3:30-5 Wheeler 204

Book List

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

Other Readings and Media

The vast majority of readings for this course will be found in the course reader (to be purchased separately). In addition, we will be viewing a handful of television programs (e.g an episode of All in the Family) as well as the following films: Medium Cool (dir. Haskell Wexler, 1969);Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorcese, 1976); Network (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1976); and Saturday Night Fever (dir. John Badham, 1977). 


As one writer quipped, it was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. “The Seventies” routinely come in for mockery as an era of bad taste — an era when enormous sideburns, leisure suits, extra-wide bell bottoms, pet rocks, and “diet” mackerel pudding made sense to all too many Americans. Even at the time, the 1970s were known as the decade when “it seemed like nothing happened.”

Yet we can see now that the ’70s was a time of great cultural renaissance and political ferment. It gave us the New Hollywood of Scorcese, Coppola and others; the “New Journalism” of Michael Herr, Joan Didion, 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.

Rather than simply being a transitional period between the “liberal” 1960s and “conservative” 1980s, it was in fact a period of intense political realignment, with the United States 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 and gender equality, its gun culture, its corruption of the political process, its transition to a postindustrial economy, its widening inequality, its fetish for self-fulfillment, 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.

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