English 247-001: Literature and the Human Experience

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English 247-001: Literature and the Human Experience

American True Crime”

Spring 2012

AUP 189 (subject to change – check PAWS)

MW 2-3:15

Instructor Name: Ann McBee

Office: 292 Curtin Hall, 366 Curtin Hall (Check both)

Office Hours: TBA

E-mail: stewar22@uwm.edu

Required Texts and Materials

Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: Vintage, 1993.

DeLillo, Don. Libra. New York: Penguin, 1991.
Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City. New York: Vintage, 2003.
Melville, Herman. Bartleby and Benito Cereno. New York: Dover, 1990.
Williams, Sherley Anne. Dessa Rose. New York: Quill, 1999.
All books are available at People’s Books Cooperative on Locust between Maryland and Frederick. Additional readings will be available on D2L or provided by the instructor. Reading assignments will be given during class, so it is your responsibility, in case of absence, to e-mail me to find out what reading is required for the next meeting.
You will also need the following: a notebook for class notes and in-class writing and something to write with, a stapler, and access to a computer and computer printer.


It is assumed that you have fulfilled one of the following two conditions: you received a score at level 4 on the EPT (English Placement Exam); or you passed 102 with a C or better. Please talk to me as soon as possible if you are not certain that you have met the prerequisites.

Course Description

This course examines the way American literary authors take on some of the most infamous events in our history. We will read fictionalized crime narratives that relive and revise historical crime in a way that makes us question the boundaries between fictional narrative and the historical record, as well as our culturally-defined conceptions of evil. We will also look at critical texts that discuss a postmodern view of narrative, inherent silences in the historical record, representations of murder in the public eye, and the hybridity of true crime fiction.

Through reconstructing (or deconstructing) the crime, its investigation and the pursuit and conviction of the criminal, the true crime story provides a possible truth among many in America’s obscure past. We will find that truth is in fact multiple, rather than absolute, and that the truth gets defined by numerous often conflicting factors. Some of these also determine what aspects of events are recorded and what is left to the imagination of authors like DeLillo and Capote, making much of the truth isolated, unknowable, and open to invention. In this way, fiction might actually be said to revise history as we know it.
But why revise history? Why question the veracity of these narratives? Through examining narrative of crime, whether it be politically motivated or seemingly senseless, we will also question how evil is constructed, depicted and defined. What was once considered evil may now be considered revolutionary. What isn’t recorded is often that which points to a culprit other than the criminal him/herself, a culprit that is woven into the very fabric of what has made America the powerful nation that it is.
At the culmination of this course, you will look closely at these issues through the lens of a contemporary popular true crime novel of your own choosing. You will compose an essay that analyzes the way in which a contemporary true crime author works within, around, and possibly against the historical and legal records at his/her disposal to build narrative. Your essay will ask, among other things, how the author constructs truth, what cultural perspectives he/she privileges, and how he/she represents the figure of evil throughout the text.

Graded Course Practices

To receive your ten participation points for the semester, you need only to be on time for every class, to participate in class discussion frequently (enough that I remember your face and voice), and have absolutely no missing or late assignments. For every tardy, I take two points from the total. If you are silent all or most of the semester, I take five. If you have more than one late or missing assignment, I take another five from the total. Read: turn in all your work on time and do not be late to class.

D2L Reading Responses

Every student is expected to contribute to discussion every class period. To that end, each week, you will be asked to isolate passages from the reading and comment on them in our D2L site, and you will be expected to speak to those comments in class. To receive credit, you must type out and cite the page number of the passage you would like to discuss, provide context, and state clearly and specifically what in the passage incited your confusion, curiosity, or interest. These are due at noon on the dates indicated below. Late responses will not be counted.

Reading Quizzes

Throughout the semester, I will give brief open-text quizzes consisting of one essay question on a concept or issue related to our course texts. The dates for these quizzes will be announced and will depend on how well the readings are discussed in class, but the content will be unknown until the day of the quiz. Often the quiz will ask you to define a key term or identify a concept within a text we have read. You will be allowed to consult the texts while taking the quiz.

Short Analysis Papers

Over the course of the semester, you will be expected to turn in four short papers (3-4pages), analyzing one or more course texts. These papers will require close reading, critical analysis, and interpretation and definition of key terms and will be judged on how clearly those elements are present. All papers must quote at least one passage per text used, provide adequate context for these passages, and cite correctly using MLA style. The final short paper will ask you to analyze a contemporary true crime novel of your choice, and may be presented to the class. If you are unhappy with the point total you receive on these papers, you will have one week after receiving the grade to revise the paper for a new grade that will replace the former. Further instructions to follow on and assignment sheet. These papers are due in class at 2pm… see policy for late work below.

Research Paper on a Contemporary True Crime Novel

You will be required to compose one lengthy research paper (8-10 pages) in which you examine a contemporary popular true crime novel through the lens of one or more of our course texts. You will be required to locate at least one text (book or article) in the UWM library or from our supplemental reading which helps you connect the concepts from the course to the subject of your paper. More information will follow in an assignment sheet. A working draft of this paper is due on April 18, which you will be expected to thoroughly and aggressively revise into a new final draft. The final is due on May 11 in my office at 292 Curtin Hall.

Your Short Analysis Papers and your Research Paper must be computer-printed (or typed), double-spaced, with one-inch margins on all sides, and with the pages stapled together at the top left-hand corner. Use 12 point Times New Roman font when printing your papers. On the top of the first page of your essays, put your name, the course name and section number and the name of your instructor. Before turning in any essay, you should proofread it to correct any mistakes you have made in spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure.
I will accept no Short Analysis paper that does not directly quote from a source. I will accept no Research Paper that does not have a Works Cited page or has not been revised.

Class Policies

These assignments will make up your final grade according to the following percentages:

Participation 10%

D2L responses 20% (10 discussion questions on D2L, 2 each)

Reading Quizzes 15% (3-5 quizzes, 3-5 each)

Short Papers 20% (4 papers, 5 each)

Research Paper 35%


Late Assignments

Assignments are due at the beginning of class (2 PM). Late assignments will receive half credit. Assignments will not be accepted more than one week late. They will be accepted over e-mail only in case of absence. I will not comment on late assignments. The reading responses on D2L must be posted by noon on the due date or they will not be counted at all.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism has serious consequences for writers in the university and those who write for publication. UW-Milwaukee, the English Department, and I personally do not hesitate to take disciplinary action if a student has plagiarized. It is remarkably easy to catch students in the act of turning in work that is not their own, and your chances of getting away with this are slim to none. Don’t do it.


All students are allotted four unexcused absences (two weeks of class). “Excused” implies a signed note from a physician only. For every additional other absence after four, students will lose 5% from their final grade. For this reason, I’d advise you to save your absences for emergencies, such as minor illnesses, funerals, court dates, and child care issues.


Please be on time to all class meetings.  Tardiness will result in serious consequences for your participation grade. If you are more than twenty minutes late to class, you will be marked absent for the day. 

If you must leave early, you should talk to me before class. Otherwise if you leave early at all you will be marked absent.
Other University Policies

The Secretary of the University has a page dedicated to policies concerning the following: students with disabilities; religious observances; students called to active military duty; discriminatory conduct (such as sexual harassment); academic misconduct; complaint procedures; and grade appeal procedures. Please see http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/SecU/SyllabusLinks.pdf for further information.

Writing Center (http://www.writingcenter.uwm.edu; 229-4229)

If you would like help with your writing outside of my office hours or would just like a fresh perspective, I’d strongly encourage you to try the Writing Center.  Located in Curtin Hall 172, this center offers free individual tutoring to all UWM students.  The tutors are trained to work with you on any questions or concerns you have with reading or writing.

Student Accessibility Center (SAC)

If you work with an adviser at the SAC, please bring your VISA statement to me within the first week of class. The SAC can help students who have difficulty attending class or completing assignments due to learning disabilities, mobility issues, mental health issues, and chronic illness. They can also arrange accommodations for students with hearing and vision difficulties. If you think you may have trouble meeting the requirements of the course due to any of these, please visit the SAC office in Room 112 of Mitchell Hall as soon as possible.

Administrative drop 

Any student who does not attend the first week of classes (or its equivalent) and has not contacted me will be dropped from the course through an administrative drop.


Classroom Courtesy 

- No cell phones, laptops, or other electronic devices should be visible. Keep them in your bags and keep them turned off. Not on vibrate, not on silent – OFF. If a cell phone or blackberry appears or makes itself otherwise known during class you will be marked absent.

- Address your classmates and your instructor politely and treat each other with respect, even if your opinions differ, which they will. Be respectful of each other’s cultural and other differences. Don’t be racist, sexist, or homophobic in your remarks. Don’t call names or yell at each other. Basically, conduct discussion as professional adults would.

- Obviously, don’t sleep in class. If you are asleep you are considered absent.

- You can eat or drink in class if you like, but please be considerate of others—avoid spills and noisy food.  If, later in the semester, I feel that in-class snacking is becoming in any way disruptive of our work or causes a hassle for the custodial staff, I reserve the right to change this policy.


For your information:

General Education Requirements (GER) for the Humanities:
To satisfy GER distribution requirements for the Humanities, a course must meet criteria a) and *one* other:
a) Approach its subject using humanistic means of inquiry, such as: the critical use of sources and evaluation of evidence, the exercise of judgment and expression of ideas, the organization, logical analysis, and creative use of substantial bodies of knowledge.
b) Increase the student's capacities for making informed and independent evaluation pertaining to the nature of knowledge, language, and representation, and concerning the formation of ethical or aesthetic concepts, or the ways in which values are manifested within diverse theoretical or conceptual frameworks.
c) Introduce the student to substantial and coherent bodies of historical, cultural, literary or philosophical knowledge, as a means of increasing an understanding of the complexities and varieties of human events.
d) Enhance and extend the student's response to literature and/or other arts by introducing the process of thoughtful and systematic analysis, or by fostering an appreciation of distinctive cultures and traditions, or by increasing the student's sensitivity to language and its nuances.
e) Foster the application of humanistic perspective to other branches of knowledge or to issues of universal human concern.

Class Schedule

(subject to change)

1/23-1/25: Introduction, Syllabus

Herman Melville, Benito Cereno

Albert Borowitz, "The History and Traditions of Fact-based Crime Literature. (Crimes Gone By: Collected Essays of Albert Borowitz, 1966- 2005)." The Legal Studies Forum. 29(2). Spring 2005: 957-978.

From, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon, 1995.

1/30-2/1: Reading response to Melville due 1/30 noon

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

Jonathan Elmer: “Babo's Razor; or, Discerning the Event in an Age of Differences.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. 19(2). Summer 2008: 54-81.

Shari Goldberg. “Benito Cereno's Mute Testimony: On the Politics of Reading Melville's Silences.” The Arizona Quarterly. 65(2). Summer 2009: 1-26.

2/6-2/8: Reading response to Capote due 2/6 noon

Capote, In Cold Blood cont.

Trenton Hickman, “The Last to See Them Alive: Panoticism, the Supervisory Gaze, and Catharsis in Capote’s In Cold Blood.” Studies in the Novel. 37(4). Winter 2005: 464-476.

Nick Rance. “‘Truly Serpentine’: ‘New Journalism’, In Cold Blood and the Vietnam War.” Literature and History. 11(2). Autumn 2002: 78-100.
2/13-2/15: First analysis paper due 2/13

Reading response to Capote due 2/15 noon

Capote, In Cold Blood cont.

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City

From Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, and Fiction. New York: Routledge, 1988. 105-123.

From, Karen Halttunen, Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998. 60-90.

2/20-2/22: Contemporary novel chosen and title reported to instructor 2/22

Reading response to Larson due 2/20 noon

Larson, The Devil in the White City cont.

From Sara L. Knox, Murder: A Tale of Modern American Life. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. 189-213.

From Mark Seltzer, Serial Killers: Death and Life in America’s Wound Culture. New York: Routledge 1998.
2/27-2/29: Reading response to Larson due 2/27 noon

Larson, The Devil in the White City cont.

From Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish and Madness and Civilization TBA
3/5-3/7: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Dir. Clint Eastwood. 1997.

Reading response to MGGE due 3/7 at midnight.

3/12-3/14: Second analysis paper due 3/12

Discussion of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Clara Juncker. “Simulacrum Savannah: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Literature and Film Quarterly. 33(3). 2005: 182-190.
3/19-3/21: SPRING RECESS
3/26-3/28: Don DeLillo, Libra

Shannon Herbert. “Playing the Historical Record: DeLillo’s Libra and the Kennedy Archive.” Twentieth-Century Literature. 56(3). Fall 2010: 287-317.

Jonathan Simon. “Ghosts of the Disciplinary Machine: Lee Harvey Oswald, Life- History, and the Truth of Crime.” Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities. 10(1). Winter 1998: 75-113. http://www.lexisnexis.com.ezproxy.lib.uwm.edu

Reading of contemporary novel should be complete or near complete by 3/28
4/2-4/4: Reading response to DeLillo due 4/2 noon

DeLillo, Libra cont.

Timothy L. Parrish. “The Lesson of History: Don DeLillo's Texas Schoolbook, Libra.” Clio. 30(1). 2000: 1-23.

From Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984. 18-31.

4/9-4/11: Reading response to DeLillo due 4/9 noon

Third analysis paper due 4/11

DeLillo, Libra cont.

From Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. London: Verso, 2001.

From Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke UP 1991.
4/16-4/18: First draft of research paper due 4/18

Sherley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose

4/23-4/25: Reading response to Williams due 4/23 noon

Fourth analysis paper due 4/25

Williams, Dessa Rose cont.

4/30-5/2: Reading response to Williams due 4/30 noon

Williams, Dessa Rose cont.

5/7-5/9: Contemporary novels: presentations of analyses.

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