In this course we will read a good number of canonical texts of American literature in the context of historical, social, and political changes in the conception of a collective national identity. In order to uncover the relationship between literary forms and social reality (both past and present), we will expand the meanings of "text" and "reading" to include a consideration of non-literary or material forms of cultural expression such as painting, photography, and other representations of social and physical space that may include architecture, maps, and selected built environments. All of these course materials will be thematically grouped around aspects of the spatial imagination in American culture, a complex and enduring conceptual model that continues to find its way into notions of identity, social inclusion, and other vexing issues about what constitutes a national culture in the United States.
We will begin by reading some important works of the eighteenth century and then work our way through to the end of the nineteenth century. The reading list will most likely include Thomas Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia"; Washington Irving's "The Sketch Book"; James Fenimore Cooper's "The Prairie"; Ralph Waldo Emerson, selected essays; Nathaniel Hawthorne, selected tales; Henry David Thoreau's "Walden"; Edgar Allen Poe's "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym"; Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick"; selections from Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" and the 1855 Preface; Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland" or Kate Chopin's "The Awakening"; Edith Wharton's "The House of Mirth"; selected essays of William James; Henry James's "The Portrait of a Lady"; William Dean Howells' "A Modern Instance"; Charles W. Chesnutt's "The Marrow of Tradition" or selected tales; and W. E. B. Dubois' "The Souls of Black Folk".