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Crystal Alberts' Faculty Page

Grand Forks, ND

Engl 415 Special Topics in Literature:
The American 1950s-60s

Instructor:  Dr. Crystal Alberts
:  Merrifield 1D
Office Hours: MF 1:00-2:00, W 1:00-3:00 and by appt.
Phone: 7-2393/7-3321

Required Texts:

  • The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955), Sloan Wilson (ISBN: 978-1568582467)
  • The Best of Everything (1958), Rona Jaffe (ISBN: 978-0143035299)
  • Revolutionary Road (1961), Richard Yates (ISBN: 978-0375708442)
  • Another Country (1962), James Baldwin
  • The Nowhere City (1965), Alison Lurie (ISBN: 978-0805051797)

Course Description

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical naked
[...] burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue" ~ Howl, Allen Ginsberg

From the time that it debuted in 2007 until its final episode in 2015, AMC’s Mad Men, depicted "a lushly reimagined Madison Avenue in the 1960s, where sleekly suited, chain-smoking, hard-drinking advertising executives dream up ingeniously intuitive campaigns for cigarettes and bras and airlines while effortlessly bedding beautiful young women or whisking their Grace Kelly–lookalike wives off to business trips in Rome." A critical success that influenced contemporary culture (especially, and perhaps unsurprisingly, advertising), the show was praised for its historical accuracy and for touching on a number of social issues from the era. But, how accurate was it?

In this course, we will not watch all 90 episodes of Mad Men (although feel free to do so on your own), but we will look at a few texts of the time—primarily, like the show, set around NYC and California—that speak to some of the topics touched on by Mad Men with a particular emphasis on the middle-class American Dream, gender, and race. What was it like to be one of those many men in a gray flannel suit? What about the women who were expected to be at home, waiting, with dinner on the table? What happened when people challenged racial and/or gender expectations in the workplace and beyond? What about the counterculture movements that remain, for the most part, in the background of the show?

Students in this class will be expected to participate in detailed discussions about the readings, conduct research, and write thoughtful, argumentative essays (including a "seminar" paper at the end of the semester).

This course is an Essential Studies Capstone Course, and fulfills the goals of Thinking and Reasoning.

Course Objectives

After completing this course, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a familiarity with the some of the literature, culture, and history of the United States in the 1950s and 60s.
  • Read texts carefully, think critically about them, and discuss the works in an analytical way that is supported by specific textual evidence.
  • Conduct thoughtful and thorough research, while evaluating and assessing the reliability/effectiveness/relevance of sources.
  • Write an argumentative essay while accurately and responsibly using secondary sources for support.


Attendance and Participation (20%)

A small discussion class like this one requires active participation from all its members. Please come to class having read, taken notes on, and having formed questions or comments about the assigned material beforehand. Please contribute actively and consistently to class discussion and group activities; let us hear your opinion about the literature we’re reading, even – and especially! – if you disagree with my interpretations or those of your fellow students.

You may miss three class periods without penalty. More than three unexcused absences will adversely affect this grade; more than six unexcused will result in a failing grade for the course.

Midterm Essay (Undergraduate: 8-10 pages; Graduate: 10-12 pages)
(25%, due F 10/14)

The midterm essay will be an analysis of one of the texts that we have read in class by that point in the semester. It should be 8-10 pages long for undergraduates and 10-12 pages for graduate students. It may use secondary sources, but only those provided in class, unless you have received permission from me. Of course, it should be properly formatted and documented. It is likely that prompts will be provided; however, you may always write on a topic of your own design, as long as I approve it beforehand.

Annotated Bibliography/Prospectus 25% (DUE: W 11/9)

Objectives: Generally speaking, the purpose of this assignment is to give you experience with conducting research in the field of literature. However, it is not meant to be busy work. As will be mentioned in class, your final paper topic is almost completely up to you (I just ask that it revolve around an interpretation of one or two of the primary texts covered in class). In order to help you figure out what you will argue, it will be necessary to consider what others have already said. Consequently, this assignment is designed to give you an opportunity to explore the various conversations surrounding the texts that we have read in class. Through this investigation, the hope is that you will find something that you find interesting...interesting enough to inspire you to write your final paper.

Where to start: Once you have an idea and/or text that you think you want to focus on, you should begin searching the databases that were mentioned in class: MLA Bibliography, Academic Search Premiere, and WorldCat (although others are possible). You may also want to consider contemporary cultural/historical texts (for example, you might want to look at newspapers/magazines from the 1950s-60s). As mentioned in class, you’ll want to make sure that you’re searching responsibly and efficiently....and of course begin requesting ILLs where necessary. If you have particular questions about research or find yourself getting stuck, please let me know, I’m happy to help.

Logistics: Ultimately, undergraduate annotated bibliographies should contain a minimum of seven entries and graduate annotated bibliographies should contain a minimum of ten entries (not including primary texts read in class, although those can be listed). In terms of "counting," for example, a book, a journal article, a chapter in an edited collection, another novel by the same or different author that you wish to compare, and/or a piece of source material would each be considered an entry. If you review a secondary source and decide that you will not be using it, that too can be an entry (eliminating sources can be just as valuable as finding them). For this class, I would prefer that your papers not use strictly theoretical texts to frame your paper's argument and encourage you to take a more cultural/historical approach. Also note, and this is extremely important, this does not mean that you will have a paper with 7 or more secondary sources that many sources in short papers (and yes, 20 pages is still short) would be ill-advised. Again, the idea is that you become familiar with the critical conversations surrounding the text.

Each entry should include the full citation for the work (MLA citation style please). After the citation, you should include at least one paragraph summarizing the argument of the secondary text (keeping in mind that I may or may not have read the work myself, so it should offer a clear and accurate summary so that I understand what it is about, but beyond me, this summary should also be a tool for you, so that you remember what the arguments are). Each entry should also include at least one detailed paragraph explaining how you will or will not use it in your own argument and why.

In addition to your annotated bibliography, you will also be asked to write a prospectus. A prospectus is a preliminary proposal outlining what you envision your final essay will entail. It should note which primary text(s) your paper will use, as well as explain what you believe your overarching argument will be (including potential conclusion). It should be as detailed as you are able, but it shouldn’t be longer than two pages double-spaced (although I suspect that some of you will only have a page and that is perfectly acceptable).

And remember, this will be a process that will involve additions, subtractions, and changes...part of the normal course of research and writing. As always, if you have questions, just let me know.

Final Paper (Undergraduate: 10-15 pages; Graduate: 20-25 pages) (30%, due W 12/14 by Noon)

The final essay will make an argument about one or two related texts, at least one of which must have been assigned in class, using secondary sources. The topic of the paper will be of your choosing, although it must be approved by Alberts, and may be the one proposed in your prospectus or a revised version of it. Your paper must use secondary sources to support your claims, some of which may have been summarized in your annotated bibliography. Please note, you must use at least one secondary source; however, you should not use so many secondary sources that they overwhelm your analysis of the primary text(s) being interpreted.


Formatting and Documentation of Written Work:

All written work should be in twelve-point Times New Roman font and double-spaced. Margins should be 1" to 1.25". The author’s last name should appear next to a page number in the upper-right-hand corner on all pages after the first.

All short writing assignments and major essays must be properly documented in MLA style, meaning that they should include both in-text parenthetical citations and a list of works cited (please place this list a few lines after the end of an essay, rather than on a separate sheet of paper). You must include such documentation even if your only source is the story or poem being analyzed. Undocumented written work is guilty of plagiarism, and will receive a failing grade.

Late Work:

Assignments will be penalized 1/3 of a letter grade for each day they are late.

All major assignments must be completed in order to pass the course.


UND’s academic catalog dictates that "Students are expected to maintain scholastic honesty. Scholastic dishonesty includes but is not limited to cheating on a test, plagiarism, and collusion. . . . Plagiarism means the appropriation, buying, receiving as a gift, or obtaining by any means another person’s work and the unacknowledged submission or incorporation of it in one’s own work. This includes appropriation of another person’s work by the use of computers or any other electronic means. Collusion means the unauthorized collaboration with another person in preparing written work offered for credit. For detailed policy statements and procedures dealing with scholastic dishonesty, see the Code of Student Life, section 3."

Any plagiarized work submitted for the course will receive a failing grade.

Students with Disabilities:

If you have emergency medical information to share with me, need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, or need disability accommodations in this course, please make an appointment with me. If you plan to request disability accommodations, you are expected to register with Disability Services for Students, 190 McCannel Hall, 777-3425 (v/tty).

(the large print giveth, the small print taketh away...schedule subject to change)

W 8/24      Introductions/Syllabus

F 8/26        Cultural Context: Excerpt Pursuing the American Dream: Opportunities and Exclusions over Four Centuries, Jillson, ch. 7 [handout]; "The Black Silence of Fear," Douglas [handout]; "Executive Order 9835" [handout or available at] and "Veto of Internal Security Act of 1950," Truman [handout or available at]

M 8/29      Cultural Context: "Supermarket in California," Ginsberg [handout]; "Inconspicuous Consumption," Whyte [handout]; Excerpt Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War, May [handout]

W 8/31     Reading: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, ch. 1-11.

F 9/2     Reading: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, ch. 12-19


W 9/7     Reading: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, ch. 20-30.

F 9/9      Reading: Finish The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

M 9/12     NO CLASS

W 9/14      On Writing and Research

F 9/16      Critical Context: "The Sanctimonious Suburbanite: Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," Jurca, [handout or available at]

M 9/19      Critical Context: "The Sanctimonious Suburbanite: Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," Jurca, [handout or available at]

W 9/21      Reading: Revolutionary Road, part I, ch. 1-5

F 9/23      Reading: Revolutionary Road, part I, ch. 6- part II, ch. 3

M 9/26      Reading: Revolutionary Road, part II, ch. 4- part II, ch. 3

W 9/28      Reading: Finish Revolutionary Road

F 9/30     Critical Context: "Consuming the Frontier Illusion: The Construction of Suburban Masculinity in Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road," Moreno [handout or available at]

M 10/3      Critical Context: "Consuming the Frontier Illusion: The Construction of Suburban Masculinity in Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road," Moreno [handout or available at]

W 10/5      Cultural Context: Excerpt from The Feminine Mystique, Friedan [handout]; Excerpt from Sex and the Single Girl, Brown [handout]; Excerpt from Sex and the Office, Berebitsky [handout]

F 10/7      Reading: The Best of Everything, ch. 1-7

M 10/10      Reading: The Best of Everything, ch. 8-15

W 10/12      Reading: The Best of Everything, ch. 16-22

F 10/14      Reading: Finish The Best of Everything
Midterm Essay Due

M 10/17      Critical Context: TBD

W 10/19       Critical Context: TBD

F 10/21       Cultural Context: "The Dangerous Road Before Martin Luther King" (1961), Baldwin [handout]; "The Ballot or the Bullet" (1964), Malcolm X [handout]; Baldwin essay [handout]; "Everybody's Protest Novel" (1949), Baldwin [handout]

M 10/24      Cultural Context: "The White Negro" (1957), Mailer [handout]; "The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy" (1961), Baldwin [handout]

W 10/26      Reading: Another Country, Book 1, ch. 1

F 10/28      Reading: Another Country, Book 1, ch. 2

M 10/31    Reading: Another Country, Book 2, ch. 1-2

W 11/2      Reading: Another Country, Finish Book 2

F 11/4        Reading: Finish Another Country

M 11/7      Critical Context: "Liberalism, Libido, Liberation: Baldwin's Another Country," Cohen [handout]

W 11/9      Critical Context: "Physical Sympathy: Hip and Sentimentalism in James Baldwin's Another Country," Gordon, [handout or available at:] Annotated Bibliography/Prospectus Due


M 11/14       Critical Context: Cohen and Gordon continued

W 11/16      Cultural Contexts: TBD

F 11/18      Reading: The Nowhere City, ch. 1-5

M 11/21      Reading: The Nowhere City, ch. 6-9

W 11/23      Reading: The Nowhere City, ch. 10-14


M 11/28      Reading: The Nowhere City, ch. 15-19

W 11/30      Reading: Finish The Nowhere City

F 12/2        Workshop: Final Paper

M 12/5      Workshop: Final Paper

W 12/7      Workshop: Final Paper


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