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Early American Literature

ENGL 043.601
instructor(s):
R 5:30-8:30

This is a survey of early American literature from the late sixteenth century to the early nineteenth. As we explore the disparate yet overlapping literatures of this complex period, during which North American colonies come to be a conceptual “America,” which unites otherwise incongruous identities, we will trace an evolving rhetoric of personhood in various literary forms. In autobiography, the novel, and the political treatise we will explore a progression away from the colonial sense of identity as a god-given, immutable fact of existence toward the secular model of the self as a dynamic product of conscious social engagement. With the rise of democracy on the North American continent comes the rise of a socially mobile, civic self in early American literature. We will explore how this conception of personhood becomes a controlling rhetorical model for the institutions and material conditions that eventually define American culture and how slavery truncates the promise of a dynamic, civic socially mobile notion of the individual. Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography will serve as a center of gravity for the course as an expression of the civic self in comparison to the ideas of self in literature before and after Franklin. Other readings will likely include: the writing of Olaudah Equiano, Anne Bradstreet, Cotton Mather, Mary Rowlandson, Sarah Kemble Knight, Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Harriot, James Madison, Thomas Paine, Susanna Haswell Rowson, James Fenimore Cooper and others.