When did the United States become "modern"? The premise of this course is that there is a better way to pose the question, namely: Where did the U.S. become modern America? We will examine nineteenth-century authors who wrote in or about New York City, as the site where forces of modernity made their earliest and most concentrated appearance. New York City will thus be a focal point for exploring crucial changes in American literature, culture, and social life. The course pursues a genealogy of our contemporary postmodern experience by looking through the eyes of the writers on the "hinter" side of modernity. We will be paying attention interior changes in feeling (the experience of walking in urban streets, the desire to go shopping, new sensations of speed, time, and place, new forms of belonging) as well as the profound changes in large social structures (global immigration and travel, the emergence of mass culture and communications, the impact of trusts and corporations, the redefining of kinship and family, the importance of ethnic and sexual subcultures). A field trip or optional research trip to New York may be part of the course.
The syllabus will include some sociological texts on the category of modernity (Simmel, Weber, Giddens). Literary works will probably include: Poe, stories; Whitman, poems and "Democratic Vistas"; Melville, "Bartleby the Scrivener"; Dunbar, The Sport of the Gods; Dreiser, Sister Carrie; James, The American Scene; José Marti, Our America; Wharton, Twilight Sleep; Crane, Maggie; Cahan, Yekl; Johnson, Black Manhattan; Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives; Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks; Yezierska, Bread Givers; Benjamin, "Central Park."