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Seeing and Believing in 19th Century America

ENGL 016.302
TR 9-10:30

This class will examine a range of “texts” from nineteenth-century American print and visual culture that dramatize, trouble, and/or confirm “seeing is believing,” including Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, Melville’s Pierre, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, as well as selected paintings, photographs, engravings, and advertisements.  In our discussions, we will consider a range of socio-historical contexts for these works, including race, class, and gender as well as aesthetics, politics, and science, and explore the dialectics of word and image, seeing and knowing, truth and fiction, and representation and reality in antebellum American culture.  Questions to be addressed include: What is the relationship between the artist, his/her work, an audience, and reality in these texts?  On what terms can we begin to understand literary and visual texts comparatively?  What aspects of artistic creation do these texts suggest are perennial issues for art and artists, for America as a nation and a culture, and for humankind more broadly?

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