Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Representing the Nation: American Culture After the Revolution

ENGL 583.301
instructor(s):
F 9-12

The project of creating a nation and a national culture in the period after independence was a collective endeavor that took place in a wide variety of social venues and institutional settings (e.g., public squares, schools, museums, churches, courtrooms), in a wide assortment of media (print, architecture, painting, taxidermy, musical performance), in many different discourses (natural science, political theory, ethnography, religion, linguistics), and among very different classes of people (genders, races, classes, parties, ethnicities). It was necessarily a contentious and conflictive process, in which different social and political interests vied for precedence because the shape of the future was at stake.

This course will examine various ways in which the nation was produced in one or another cultural domain in the period from 1776 to 1826. Texts and topics may include Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography; the slave Olaudah Equiano's Life; Charles Brockden Brown's novel Wieland; the technological innovations, museum practices, and visual art of Charles Willson Peale; Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia; the medical, penological, and educational theories of Benjamin Rush; the Adams-Jefferson letters; early ethnographies of native Americans (for instance, John Heckewelder's Account of the History, Manners and Customs of the Indian Nations); the Memoirs of Stephen Burroughs, an autobiography of a notorious confidence man; the legal and constitutional theories of James Wilson; therevolutionary historiography of Mercy Otis Warren's Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution; early sentimental novels like Hannah Foster's The Coquette and Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple; Washington Irving's History of New York; the journals of Lewis and Clark; Judith Sargent Murray's The Gleaner. We will focus (although not exlusively) on Philadelphia as a symbolic center of nationality, and try to exploit some of the local resources of Philadelphia's streets, museums and archives.