Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

American Literature to 1870

ENGL 082.001
instructor(s):
MW 3-4:30

This course examines American literature from colonization to the Civil War. Our aim is not to be comprehensive, which would be impossible given the time-span we cover-about two and a half centuries. Instead, we will seek coherence in terms more critical and thematic. Moving quickly between times, places, peoples, and genres, we will see what writing can tell us about social relations in early America. This will include social problems like difference, conflict, oppression, and change. It will also include social achievements: tolerance, cooperation, identity, and freedom. None were clear-cut, as problems or as achievements, with the result that the texts we look at tell different and contradictory social stories: certainty is undercut by anxiety; order by violence; love by insecurity. Authors range from the famous (John Winthrop, Ann Bradstreet, Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville) to the obscure (Hetty Shepard, Harriet Farley, George Thompson). Texts include fiction, poetry, autobiography, slave narratives, reform tracts, diaries, and personal correspondence. We will be interested in how such material reflected early American relations. We will also be interested in how they shaped those relations, producing them and changing them over time. Requirements include midterm and final exams, a final paper, several short writing assignments.