This course will introduce you to some of the major and emergent works of antebellum American literature, while also providing a cultural and critical context for the study of the period commonly referred to as both an American Renaissance and an Era of Reform. Indeed, seldom has the conjunction of literary innovation and reformist energies been so dynamic, or yielded such astonishing results. Writers from the centers and the margins of national life--working in traditional as well as experimental genres--formed and reformed the literatures of American nationalism, of liberal aesthetics, of moral reaction and social progressivism, of radical idealism and the nightmares of the real. We will study their works with an eye to the ways in which broad principles of reform (like democratization, iconoclasm, and transcendentalism) and even specific reform movements (such as temperance, abolitionism, and women's rights) helped shape and were themselves shaped by the literary imagination. Here is a sketch (subject to revision) of the reading we will do: short fiction and poetry by Washington Irving, Catharine Sedgwick, Edgar Allan Poe, Lydia Sigourney, John Greenleaf Whittier, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson; essays and other prose writings by David Walker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Frederick Douglass, and Henry David Thoreau; novels by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Wells Brown, Fanny Fern, and Herman Melville.
Students will write two 10-page essays, the second in conjunction with a bibliography exercise and in-class presentation exploring some aspect of the formation and reformation of American literature in recent Americanist criticism.