This class will introduce many important works of American literature by looking at the ways the various natural landscapes and environments of America have been imagined from the time of European contact through the twentieth century. American ideas of individualism, nationalism, freedom, oppression, and violence have found their expression and their reflection in the continent's wildly diverse natural expanses. We will look at literary and artistic responses to specific natural forms, such as Twain's take on Mississippi, Douglass's use of maritime trading routes to make his escape, Crèvecoeur's discussion of the farm, and Columbus's anticipation of an earthly paradise.
Class readings will cover topics such as slavery, natural disaster, westward expansion, revolution, and immigration; authors may include Herman Melville, Cotton Mather, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Jonathan Edwards, Henry David Thoreau, Jack London, and Mary Rowlandson. We will also look at American landscape painting and its revelations of nature and culture.