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19th Century American Literature

ENGL 583.301
instructor(s):
R 12-3

This course will examine the vexed idea of historicism in nineteenth-century American literary studies (or as one essay title has put it, "Are We Being Historical Yet?") What does it mean to historicize American literature, and what are the implications? That question will provide an introduction to the field and to current critical methods. Because the original American Studies movement offered itself as a historicized alternative to New Criticism, the "turn to history" in literary criticism decades later introduced an uncanny critical difference into American literary studies: historical criticism looked at once familiar and unsettlingly strange. Theories of narration and nationality from European theorists, along with vernacular theories of US minority discourse, have recast -- but not resolved -- debates about the social and historical force of American literature. The course will match frequently taught literary works with influential critical essays in order to explore some of the current issues in the field. We will conclude by examining the most recent developments in historically inflected criticism, adapted from cultural studies and postcolonial studies.