This seminar is designed to examine how the framework of biopolitics has opened new perspectives on early US literature and culture, focusing on writing produced in the nineteenth century. We will explore how techniques designed to manage and optimize “life itself” (Foucault) influenced the way bodies and populations were conceptualized and administered in this period. We will ask how the historical emergence of biopolitics matters to such topics as sentimentalism, secularity, kinship, sexuality, and race science. This course will offer an introduction to influential theorists of biopolitics (Foucault, Agamben, Mbembe, Wynter, Weheliye, Puar, Chen) alongside more recent criticism and primary literature. We will explore how notions of productive and disposable populations left their imprint on key literary texts by writers such as Herman Melville, Harriet Jacobs, Zitkala-Sa, and Pauline Hopkins. Requirements include participation, a presentation, and a final writing project (with the option to write a shorter or longer research paper).