Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

American Literature 1870-1900

ENGL 083.001
instructor(s):
TR 1:30-3

This course examines the astonishing variety of literary work produced by many different kinds of writers in the United States--some very well known, and others whose talent and importance is just now being recognized--during one of the most tumultuous periods in the nation's history. The fragile emergence of national unity after the Civil War was threatened by the disastrous social consequences of Reconstruction, by challenges to the idea of American nationality and citizenship posed by the massive influx of immigrants throughout the 1880s and 1890s, and by the final decimation and displacement of Native American tribal communities in the American West. This was also a time of rapid urbanization, developments in science and engineering, the so-called closing of the frontier, the rise of United States imperialism, and the growing political consciousness of American women and ethnic minority groups. Against this background we will read about the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, anti-immigration documents from the period, medical tracts on neurasthenia and degeneration, as well as novels by Mark Twain, Edward Bellamy, Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, Henry James, Helen Hunt Jackson, Stephen Crane, Charles W. Chesnutt and William Dean Howells. We will consider some writings by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, William James, Jacob A. Riis, and several others. Several short papers, a take-home mid-term, and a final examination are required.