HIST-LIT 90EJ: Espionage: A Cultural History





Instructor: Duncan White
Meeting time: Monday, 9:45-11:45 am

EspionageOver the course of the twentieth century the spy thriller became a central part of our culture, changing the way people imagined how the state operates in secret. Why are we attracted to stories of paranoia and conspiracy? What is the history of this genre, and how is it intertwined with the history of espionage? Does espionage fiction glamorize the work of spy agencies? Or help challenge it? The course is divided into four units. The first will consider the origins of the spy thriller and how the obsession with espionage fiction was connected to the creation of the Secret Services in Britain, reading stories by Baroness Orczy, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rudyard Kipling. The second unit shift its focus to British spies in the Cold War and, against the backdrop of Soviet penetration of MI5 and MI6, will explore the different ideas of espionage offered by the glamor of James Bond and the "insider" fiction of Elizabeth Bowen and John le Carré. The third unit focuses on American spying, and considers the way the CIA has been represented on page and screen, and the relationship of these fictions to the actual operations of the agency, including political subversion, covert action, and targeted assassinations. In doing so we will also consider how writers like Viet Thanh Nguyen, Lauren Wilkinson, and Mohsin Hamid have challenged the conventions of the spy thriller genre. In the final unit we will explore the role of espionage in the "War on Terror," and reflect on how surveillance techniques developed by intelligence agencies have become part of our everyday lives.