Modernism was not a single movement but a varied, international cluster of artistic activities that started, depending on who you ask, in the late 1800s or early 1900s. What these activities had in common was a premise: an understanding that industrialization, democratization, colonialism, and other social, political, and economic forces had changed everyday life in profound, liberating, and disturbing ways, and that new forms of art were needed in response… the “new forms of art,” however, were incredibly diverse. Anglophone literary modernism, for example, was comprised of a number of different circles, schools, and ideological commitments, dispersed across the globe. Some forms of modernist literature were artistically experimental, aiming to discard or reinvent inherited conventions, while others were rooted in political outrage, born of a desire to overturn oppressive systems; some practitioners saw these two goals as complementary and others did not. Moreover, what counted as “experimental” or “political” in one circle could be very different in another.

Rather than survey all of the literary modernisms written in English, this course focuses on three key American modernists, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Langston Hughes, who assembled strong and influential networks. These networks helped each of our central figures to write, publish, and get famous, but also to love, learn, make friends and enemies, earn a living, form political allegiances, and assist their allies and disciples. These networks were also very instrumental in establishing the Pound, Stein, and Hughes legacies that continue to affect us as readers today.

We will view these modernist networks from the particular vantage point of the archive. The archive—for our purposes, this includes books, manuscripts, letters, magazines, newspapers, photographs, and audio-visual recordings made during the period in question and later on, as well as digital representations of original materials—gives us access to three especially important features of the modernist network. First, it helps us see connections between people when those connections were mediated by materials. Second, it helps us understand how genre possibilities, media forms, and publication technologies contributed to or limited the kinds of work writers could produce and the networks they could build. And finally, it gives us a glimpse of the power dynamics within and around these networks—the archival traces of social structures like class, race, and gender, for example, which not only shaped the lives of the writers we’ll be examining, but their afterlives.

Our vantage point in the archive also permits us to explore special collections materials held by the Sheridan Libraries here at JHU. Most of these materials are recently acquired, and you will get first crack at them!


Langston Hughes, The Langston Hughes Reader: The Selected Writings of Langston Hughes (George Braziller 9780807600573)

Alec Marsh, Ezra Pound (Reaktion Books, Limited 9781861898623)

Ezra Pound, Personae: The Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound, edited by Lea Baechler and A. Walton Litz (New Directions 9780811211383 )

Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (Knopf Doubleday 9780679724636)



T, Jan 30

What is modernism? What is an archive?


T, Feb 6

Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, chapters 1 through 5.

T, Feb 13

“Picasso,” “Matisse,” “If I Told Him,” “Georges Hugnet” and “Portraits and Repetition,” on e-reserve. Digitized manuscript of “George Maratier,” on Blackboard. Autobiography, chapters 6 to end.

T, Feb 20

“Tender Buttons” selections and “Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded,” on e-reserve. Digitized letters to Mabel Weeks, Robert Browne, and Paul Bowles, on Blackboard. Digitized typescript of “Useful Knowledge,” on Blackboard.

T, Feb 27

Tables of contents and prefatory materials in Writings and Lectures, ed. Meyerowitz and Sprigge; A Stein Reader, ed. Ulla Dydo; and The Gertrude Stein Reader, ed. Richard Kostelenetz, on e-reserve.


T, Mar 6

Personae, “The Tree,” “A Villonaud: Ballad of the Gibbet,” “Mesmerism,” “De Aegypto,” “Rome,” “Mr. Housman’s Message,” “Silet,” “An Object,” “The Seafarer,” “Doria [Greek],” “The Picture,” “The Garret,” “The Garden,” “Ortus,” “Salutation the Second,” “Commission,” “A Pact,” “April,” “To Kalon [Greek],” “The Study in Aesthetics,” “The Bath Tub,” “After Ch’u Yuan,” “Fan-Piece, For Her Imperial Lord,” “In a Station of the Metro,” “Alba,” “Black Slippers: Bellotti,” “Papyrus,” “Shop Girl,” “L’Art, 1910,” “The Game of Chess,” “Hugh Selwin Mauberley: II [The age demanded an age],” “IV [These fought in any case],” “V [There died a myriad],” “Mr. Nixon.” Marsh, chapters 1 through 5.

T, Mar 13

Personae, “Canto I.” Marsh, chapters 6 to end. Pound, “Autobiographical Outline,” on e-reserves.

T, Mar 20

No class; spring break.

T, Mar 27

Letters from Pound collection, on Blackboard. Pound, “How To Read,” on e-reserves. Excerpts from Ezra Pound: The Contemporary Reviews, ed. Betsy Erkilla, on e-reserve.


T, Apr 3

Stories and poems in Langston Hughes Reader: “Cora Unashamed,” “Slave on the Block,” “Red-Headed Baby,” “Little Dog,” “Who’s Passing for Who?” “One Friday Morning,” “The Weary Blues,” “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” and Montage of a Dream Deferred.

T, Apr 10

Excerpts from The Big Sea, in Langston Hughes Reader. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” on e-reserve.

T, Apr 17

Song Lyrics and Simple stories TBA, in Langton Hughes Reader. “Introduction” to The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, vol. 5: The Plays to 1942, “The Emperor of Haiti” and “Troubled Island,” on e-reserves.

T, Apr 24

Excerpts from Letters from Langston, ed. Evelyn Louise Crawford and Marylouise Patterson, on e-reserve.

M, Apr 30

Field trip to Georgetown University, to visit the Booth Family Center for Special Collections and to attend the world premiere of Simon Bore the Cross, a rediscovered work by composer Margaret Bonds, with text by Langston Hughes.

T, May 1

Final thoughts.

Nota Bene

  • We are reading some notoriously “difficult” texts in this class. Please know that it’s okay to be confused and frustrated. There are no quizzes to test your mastery. Nobody has complete mastery of these texts! I do ask that you approach these works with patience, curiosity, and “beginner’s mindset.”
  • I am interested in your questions and ideas. If you would like to talk one on one, please make an appointment via email or after class.
  • I look forward to an interesting, productive, and fun semester. Welcome!



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