Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

American Civility

ENGL 016.305
TR 9-10:30

At this time of global upheaval, when Americans are using words like "civilized" and "barbaric" to organize their understandings of current events, it seems worthwhile to consider the development of such concepts in American culture. This course engages with American literature¹s imagery of civilization and savagery. In the American literary tradition, the "land of the free, home of the brave" often appears as an untamed wilderness -- the untainted territory of "natural man." And, alternately, American writers have figured their nation¹s sophistication in opposition to other nations and peoples, depicting the United States as a model society of republican virtue, populated by democratically cultivated citizens. Through our readings of course texts, we will examine American writers¹ responses to social movements and historical conditions that have contributed to changing conceptions of the "nature" and culture of the American people. We will investigate early Americans¹ fascination with descriptions of vast untamed lands full of rustic pioneers and Indians, and ask how later writers' responses to such institutions and conditions as American slavery, immigration, class unrest, gender inequality, and racial tensions revisited and revised powerful ideologies that produced Americans' notions of civilization. (Distribution)

fulfills requirements