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Edgar Allen Poe's Experiments

ENGL 248.301
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major

Edgar Allan Poe is usually thought of as a fantasist; yet his writings were shaped by the scientific and technological discoveries of his day. This seminar will look at Poe's literary innovations through the lens of the developing sciences of the early republic. It will examine the political importance of new institutions for research and diffusion as well as various emerging venues for popular science, including the journals in which Poe wrote as an early science reporter. We will look at the sciences he studied as a cadet at West Point and at Jefferson's University of Virginia, along with those he referenced explicitly and alluded to in his works, from electromagnetism, geometry and astronomy to entomology, pathological psychology, and mesmerism, as well as his ambivalent writings about rationality and mechanical novelties. His tales, hoaxes and criticism works will be juxtaposed with writings by American contemporaries, including Emerson and Melville, as well as English, German and French precursors from literature, philosophy and the sciences. The course thus explores the peculiar situation of science and technology in the early USA, at the same time as it reveals the varied and complex literary production of Poe in a new and revealing light.