English 2845

Politics and Literature: History and Fiction

Fall 2004

Brian Kiteley
University of Denver
Office: Sturm Hall 487C
Office hours: M 1-2, W 5-6

Email: bkiteley@du.edu
Phone: 303-871-2898

Texts:  Italo Calvino, The Baron in the Trees; E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime; Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian; Ishmael Reed, Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down; Orhan Pamuk, The White Castle; Eduardo Galeano, Century of Wind; Brian Evenson, Dark Property.  We will also read a few Donald Barthelme stories on-line ("The Rise of Capitalism," "Cortes and Montezuma," and "The Death of Edward Lear").

Assignments: Two 5-7 page papers (1,500-2,000 words) and one 3-page creative project (see below).  We will read around 100 pages per class meeting.  Late papers (handed in more than 24 hours after the due date) will be marked down a grade (from A to B, for example).  You will also write three email thought-pieces (300 words) that I will use to stimulate discussion.  For one or both of the longer expository papers you may write out a set of ten questions in advance of your papers (giving them to me in advance for possible revision) and then answer the questions.

Grades will be based on the above papers (30 % for expository papers and 25% for the creative project; 5% for each email thought-piece).

Absences: you will be allowed two absences, as long as you warn me by email in advance.  Every absence after the second absence will lower your course grade by a full grade.  Participation in official University activities as well as personal emergencies and religious observations are valid reasons for absence from classes, but you must make up the material missed and warn me in advance of missing any of these classes, if at all possible.  Official University activities include sanctioned athletic competition.  If you miss five classes without valid excuse, you will fail the course.

Reading and paper schedule

The Creative Project:  One of the three papers will be a three-page historical fiction story, using the primary historical source material on the Sand Creek Massacre from the following on-line sources:


The idea of this is to help you see what these others writers have done from the inside.  I will excerpt a handful of the stories you do and copy them for class discussion.

• • •

Oscar Wilde: "The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it."

This is a course about historical fiction.  What is historical fiction?  Isn't all fiction historical fiction, because it is about something that has to have happened before the author wrote about it?  Even science fiction tends to look at past problemspolitical, scientific, or socialand imposes them on a possible future.  The accepted definition of contemporary historical fiction is that it covers a period the author did not live through.  We'll see if that works for us, during this term.  Much historical film and fiction, like science fiction, is a commentary on the present moment.  Some novelists work very hard indeed to overcome this description, doing research and imitating the voice and style of seeing the world at the moment of the novel, throwing in the right tools and hairstyles as markers.  We will discuss and define history, fiction, and primary sources vs. secondary sources of historical material.  We will also do one short piece of historical fiction ourselves.  I will provide an on-line source of primary material (to come), and we will all (even me) write a three-page story using this material somehow.

Terms we’ll define during the quarter:

Fiction                        History
Mythology                 History
The public                  Private
Research                    Inspiration
Realism                      Memoir
Narrative                   Annals
A random universe  Cause and effect

• • •

A bibliography of books and essays on historical fiction  new
Suzanne Lebsock, a historian, talks about history and fiction  new
An essay on historical fiction by a Canadian novelist  new
A paper I wrote on writing historical fiction

Another paper I wrote on historical fiction (explaining the work in Segue below)
Some brief historical fictions (from my novel The River Gods), which I published in Double Room
Another batch of historical fictions (from The River Gods) in the journal Segue

A brief biography of Hadrian and Antinous
Orhan Pamuk on 9/11

An essay about Richard Sennett, a sociologist
An essay on reading and writing historical fiction by Sue Peabody
An interview with Eduardo Galeano
An interview with E.L. Doctorow in the Weber Studies Review

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