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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : History

Undergraduate Course: Atticus Finch's America: White Liberals and Race in the United States, 1930-2008 (HIST10478)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits40 ECTS Credits20
SummaryThis course explores key themes, events, and ideologies in twentieth-century US history through the lens of the American century's most beloved novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Over the course of this special subject, students will consider the role of literature, film, and popular culture more generally, in the construction of the US's civil rights narrative.

In particular, students will be encouraged to consider the successes and failures of white liberals, many of whom sought to influence and control both the progress and narrative of African American freedom. In Mockingbird's central character of Atticus Finch, white moderates found their hero, but the character's 'go slow' approach to civil rights is reflective of a broader strand of American white liberalism that stretched from the New Deal to the twenty-first century. This course therefore explores wider themes from the initial vantage point of one of the United States' most beloved cultural productions, examining both its influence and its representativeness in its assumption of an unquestioned white gaze and audience.
Course description After some initial responses to To Kill a Mockingbird as novel and film, students will explore chronological events in US history and politics, with particular focus on the US South of the novel's setting. They will read articles and books from historians, literary scholars, cultural critics, and lawyers, many of whom have made direct connections between the book's setting during the Depression, its release in the 1960s, and its continued reverence amongst white Americans. This allows engagement with key events such as the New Deal, the Scottsboro trial, the civil rights movement, white backlash politics of the 1970s and 1980s, affirmative action, and the complicated legacy of southern white liberal presidents, notably Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton.

Along the way, students will address key questions in twentieth-century US domestic history, from the central narrative of racial protest and progress, the vexed nature of liberal or moderate politics, and the relative successes and failures of the civil rights era. Atticus Finch's America therefore encourages students to complicate and question the continued longevity of the white moderate politics Harper Lee's hero reflected, as well as the reasons for its frequent rejection by African Americans, including high-profile snubs by James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. It ultimately examines the continued reverence shown towards To Kill a Mockingbird as a cultural and literary icon, despite or perhaps because of the politics it reflected.

Content note: The study of History inevitably involves the study of difficult topics that we encourage students to approach in a respectful, scholarly, and sensitive manner. Nevertheless, we remain conscious that some students may wish to prepare themselves for the discussion of difficult topics. In particular, the course organiser has outlined that the following topics may be discussed in this course, whether in class or through required or recommended primary and secondary sources: racist language, racist violence (including lynching/murder), sexual violence (rape). While this list indicates sensitive topics students are likely to encounter, it is not exhaustive because course organisers cannot entirely predict the directions discussions may take in tutorials or seminars, or through the wider reading that students may conduct for the course.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Students MUST NOT also be taking The American Civil Rights Movement (HIST10155)
Other requirements A pass in 40 credits of third level historical courses or equivalent.

Students should only be enrolled on this course with approval from the History Honours Programme Administrator.
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Full Year
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 400 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 44, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 8, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 348 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 80 %, Practical Exam 20 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework:
2 x 1,500 words historiographical essay (each worth 10%)
2 x 4,000 words research essay (each worth 30%)

Non-Written Skills:
Presentation with supporting materials (10%)
Class Participation (10%)
Feedback Students are expected to discuss their coursework with the Course Organiser at least once prior to submission, and are encouraged to do so more often. Meetings can take place with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment. Students will also receive feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate competence in core skills in the study of History: essay-writing, independent reading, group discussion, oral presentation, small-group autonomous learning
  2. show detailed knowledge of the key events of twentieth-century US history and culture
  3. plan and execute substantial written analyses of chosen aspects of twentieth-century US history and culture, related to course themes
  4. evaluate and apply recent critical debates in the study of race, racism, and US culture
  5. demonstrate the ability to reflect critically on a variety of critical and methodological approaches to race and US history, literature, and culture
Reading List
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).
Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman(London: William Heinemann, 2015).
Joseph Crespino, Atticus Finch: The Biography (New York: Basic Books, 2018).
William Melvin Kelley, A Different Drummer (1962).
James Baldwin, 'Everyone's Protest Novel,' Notes of a Native Son (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966).
Jodi Melamed, Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2011).
Imani Perry, More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States (New York University Press, 2011).
Roopali Mukherjee, The Racial Order of Things: Cultural Imaginaries of the Post-Soul Era (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).
Adolph Reed (ed.), Without Justice for All: The New Liberalism and Our Retreat from Racial Equality (New York: Routledge, 1999).
Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992).
Maureen E. Markey, 'Natural Law, Positive Law, and Conflicting Social norms in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird,' 32 North Carolina Central Law Review (2009).
Tony Badger, 'Fatalism, Not Gradualism: The Crisis of Southern Liberalism, 1945-65,' in Brian Ward & Tony Badger (eds.) The Making of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement (New York University Press, 1996).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills - Skills in research development and analysis
- Oral communication skills
- Written communication skills
- Group working
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Megan Hunt
Tel: (0131 6)50 9110
Course secretaryMiss Sara Dennison
Tel: (0131 6)50 2501
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