ENG31950 Architecture and Narrative

Academic Year 2023/2024

This seminar will examine literary representations of *home* through the novels, short fictions, and architecture of the American nineteenth century. Seminar members will be asked to read in many ways: through their senses, on a floorplan, in project designs that bring a scene from the novel to life in a creative final assessment (with the help of our IADT art partners).
*No previous experience of architecture or design is necessary, but an open mind is!

From Lincoln’s “house divided against itself” to Bachelard’s “poetics of space,” architectural images reflect and order the American social and literary worlds. We can locate architectural models in a range of familiar national and narrative metaphors. This module asks students to expand upon the well-worn trope of a “house of fiction,” to consider the rich connections between American architectural and literary histories, forms, and contents. Together, we will sample gothic, realist, sentimental, modern, reform, and utopian fictions, exploring U.S. literary and material architectures of community and independence, freedom and constraint, empowerment and poverty, in the nineteenth century.

Our discussions of architecture and literature incorporate histories of natural and built environments, and readings in narrative theory, theories of space and place, material culture studies, and feminist geography.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

● Demonstrate ability to discuss complex ideas in class and in written assignments
● Perform close-reading of texts leading to nuanced analysis (in essay or project form)
● Work with key insights in space and place theory, critical race theory, social history, gender & sexuality.
● Demonstrate awareness of domestic architecture as it is shaped by (and shapes) race, gender, class, and sexuality.
● Discuss key elements of 19th century American domestic fiction
● Analyze textual space through participation in an artistic project

Indicative Module Content:

The course will begin by exploring American architectures of nation building and enslavement, and spatial practices of resistance, with readings from Hannah Crafts, and Edgar Allen Poe. We will consider the the evolution of the domestic novel, true womanhood, and gendered spatial resistance in Pauline Hopkins’s Contending Forces and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's utopian novels. The final section of the course will focus on alternative housing forms, visiting Anzia Yezierska’s institutional homes for immigrant women, queer single homes, roommate fictions, and lodging-house novels, in order to consider the radical contours of turn-of-century urban rental housing.

We will introduce the Architectural Humanities through close reading and spatial analysis, theories of feminist and alternative geography, sketching exercises, the history of emotions, and finally, a final creative team project (or essay).

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
The course will take shape around weekly discussions (online and in-class), ungraded classroom exercises, and close readings.

Students will have the option to partner with classmates and an art student from IADT to create a final creative project over a series of brief meetings. Final projects are graded on process and analysis, not on individual artistic experience or skill.
Students may choose to write a final essay instead. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Journal: Group Project Journal Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Seminar: Class Participation, Preparation, and Engagement Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Assignment: Group Project and Video Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Individual Mid-Semester Short Close Reading Exercise Unspecified n/a Graded No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment
• Peer review activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback provided on essay proposal before final essay due date. Written feedback provided on close reading components during semester, on final essay after term.

Indicative Reading List:
(To be finalized annually in late summer)

Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland (1798)
Hannah Crafts, The Bondwoman’s Narrative (1853-61)
Pauline Hopkins, Contending Forces (1900)
Amy Richter, At Home in Nineteenth-Century America

Shorter (provided) fictions to include:
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Anzia Yezierska