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Intro to American Literature

ENGL 080.601
instructor(s):
TR 5-6:30

This course provides students from a variety of backgrounds with a critically intelligent grasp of the complex and consequential issues at stake in defining what constitutes a "national" literature. We will survey a fairly wide range of texts written by English and non-English speaking peoples on or about the North American continent from the earliest years of European contact to the aftermath of the Civil War. Reading and discussing travel narratives, poems, plays, captivity narratives, slave narratives, novels, short stories, political pamphlets, letters, and other documents, we will study the elusive contours of a developing and often contentious array of conceptual models for American nationality, legitimate citizenship, personhood, and culture that emerged from these creative expressions. Paying close attention to ideas and artistic achievement in individual texts, we will also seriously consider a compelling and persistent set of themes that runs through many of these works, including (1) the problematic consolidation of American political and racial hegemony; (2) the incorporation of the psycho-social element of estrangement into the idea of identity; (3) the fracturing of what Philip Fisher has called "democratic social space" as a result of the crisis over slavery its culmination in the Civil War; (4) the suppression and reassertion of women in American culture and politics; (5) the rise of industrialization, capitalism, and urbanization in conflict with rural traditions and the pastoral ideal; and (6) the pre-formation of an American national identity that was based, in part, upon a dialectic of racial, class, and ethnic "otherness." Our readings may include works by the following authors, and is subject to change: Crevecoeur, Franklin, Jefferson, Charles Brockden Brown, Poe, Irving, Melville, Hawthorne, Twain, Fanny Fern, Douglass, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman and other canonical and non-canonical works.