Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Early American Literature

ENGL 043.001
instructor(s):
MW 3:30-5

This course will introduce you to some of the unique pleasures and challenges of early American literature. From the period of colonial settlement in the early 1600s, through the Age of Revolutions in the late 18th century, the British colonies of North America and the Caribbean gave rise to a remarkably varied and vibrant literary culture. As they grappled with the complexities of New World society, authors from a variety of backgrounds improvised new literary genres and forms. We will strive to understand a selection of these writings (from the captivity narratives of John Smith and Mary Rowlandson, to the "black Atlantic" autobiography of former slave Olaudah Equiano, to sentimental and gothic novels by Susanna Rowson and Charles Brockden Brown) in their appropriate cultural and historical contexts. How did early American writers respond to the pressures of a society that was shaped and reshaped by relations between Europeans and Indians, by the forced migration of Africans to new world plantations, and by the rapid circulation of commodities and ideas in England's ever-expanding Atlantic empire? We will pay particular attention to the role of literary experimentation in the development of new "creole" selves. We will also trace the influence of colonial and revolutionary-era writings on some 19th century American authors including Herman Melville, Washington Irving and Lydia Maria Child. Requirements include a mid-term and final examination, two short papers, and regular participation in class discussions.