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Feeling American

ENGL 283.601
instructor(s):
M 6:30-9:10

In this cross-disciplinary course, we will use contemporary cultural theory, spatial analysis, and selected historical documents to study some of the major literary achievements of late-nineteenth-century urban realism in America. We will also use that framework to analyze related innovations in visual culture, architecture, and the design of public spaces during the same period, which will allow us to consider the relationships between material forms, social reality, and literary texts.

In addition to recovering the relevant material and discursive contexts out of which Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, and William Dean Howells produced their best novels, we will also shed new light on the overlooked writer Henry Blake Fuller, the immigrant fiction of Abraham Cahan, the social reform work of Jacob A. Riis, and the narrative history of the settlement movement by Jane Addams, the founder of Chicago's famous Hull House.

The purpose of the course is to understand how literary texts drew their power from, and contributed to, one of the most remarkable periods in the formation of American identity. With the rising flood of European immigrants into the nation's urban centers in the last decades of the nineteenth century, combined with the closing of the western frontier and the emergence of nativism, the very idea of what constituted the American type underwent radical revision. What it meant to look, feel, and act like an "American" was cast in spatial and physical terms that distinguished insiders from outsiders, middle-class urbanites from slum dwellers, legitimate citizens from dangerous foreigners. This conflation of bodies, spaces, and human feeling is the main topic of this course. We will explore this spatial ideology in several of its manifestations. To do so, our readings will be organized around three major areas: (1) The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago; (2) Frederick Jackson Turner's "Frontier Thesis"; and (3) William James's scientific work on "The Perception of Space." These works will serve as reference points for our readings.

We will begin by reading Edward Bellamy's best-selling utopian novel of 1888, . Then we will study the design, contents, and meaning of the 1893 Columbian Exposition as a peculiarly "American" national space, followed by readings in cultural theory, spatial analysis, and theories of perception. From there we will read three major novels of city life, followed by an examination of "other" Americans who found themselves outside the dominant culture.

Texts may be purchased at House of Our Own Bookstore, 3920 Spruce Street. A required bulk pack may be purchased at the Campus Copy Center, 3907 Walnut Street. Texts for the course include: Addams, ; Appelbaum, ; Bellamy, ; Cahan, ; Crane, ; Dreiser, ; Fuller, ; Howells, ; James, ; Riis, ; and Turner, .