Faculty Profile

Sharon O'Brien

Professor of English and American Studies, James Hope Caldwell Professor of American Cultures (1975), Department Chair

Contact Information

obrien@dickinson.edu

Denny Hall Room 316
717.245.1497
http://users.dickinson.edu/~obrien/

Bio

Sharon O'Brien teaches interdisciplinary courses in the American Studies and English Departments, looking at the multiplicity of American cultures through the lenses of race, class, gender, and ethnicity. The author of a biography of Willa Cather and of a family memoir, she is now teaching and writing memoir and personal essay. Teaching and research interests include the politics of memory; illness and narrative; and lifewriting.

Education

  • B.A., Radcliffe College, 1967
  • M.A., Harvard University, 1969
  • Ph.D., 1975

2014-2015 Academic Year

Fall 2014

AMST 301 The Political Novel
Cross-listed with ENGL 370-01. This course will explore the politics of narrative: the ways in which stories – both those created by individual authors and cultural “scripts” – relate to structures of power. How do narratives by American writers, ranging from the late 19th century to the present day, challenge dominant social institutions, representations, and ideologies – or reinforce them? We will be particularly interested in structures of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality. We will explore the ways in which American writers give voice to silenced stories and “re-vision” the past so as to give us a more complex history. Important to our course is the issue of the personal and social impact of literature upon readers: what can stories do? At the same time, we will concern ourselves with aesthetic questions and authorial intentions, asking whether aesthetic goals can be compatible with political ones. We will be reading such texts as Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, Kate Chopin, The Awakening, F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Toni Morrison, Beloved, E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime, Louise Erdrich, The Roundhouse and seeing such movies as Thelma and Louise and Twelve Years a Slave.

ENGL 370 The Political Novel
Cross-listed with AMST 301-01. This course will explore the politics of narrative: the ways in which stories – both those created by individual authors and cultural “scripts” – relate to structures of power. How do narratives by American writers, ranging from the late 19th century to the present day, challenge dominant social institutions, representations, and ideologies – or reinforce them? We will be particularly interested in structures of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality. We will explore the ways in which American writers give voice to silenced stories and “re-vision” the past so as to give us a more complex history. Important to our course is the issue of the personal and social impact of literature upon readers: what can stories do? At the same time, we will concern ourselves with aesthetic questions and authorial intentions, asking whether aesthetic goals can be compatible with political ones. We will be reading such texts as Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, Kate Chopin, The Awakening, F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Toni Morrison, Beloved, E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime, Louise Erdrich, The Roundhouse and seeing such movies as Thelma and Louise and Twelve Years a Slave.

AMST 401 Research and Methods in Am St
An integrative seminar focusing on the theory and methods of cultural analysis and interdisciplinary study. Students examine the origins, history, and current state of American studies, discuss relevant questions, and, in research projects, apply techniques of interdisciplinary study to a subject related to thematic concentration. Prerequisite: 303, Senior American studies major, or permission of the instructor. This course fulfills the DIV II social sciences distribution requirement.

Spring 2015

AMST 202 Workshop in Cultural Analysis
Intensive workshop focused on theoretical approaches to the interpretation of social and cultural materials. The course provides an early exposure to theories and methods that will be returned to in greater depth in the senior year. Intended to develop independent skills in analysis of primary texts and documents. This course fulfills the DIV II social sciences distribution requirement and WR graduation requirement.

ENGL 215 Int Cr Writ:Mem & Persnl Ess
A workshop on the writing of memoir and personal essay. Offered every two years.