When did the United States become “modern”? The premise of this course is that there is better way to pose the question, namely: where (not when) did the US become modern America? We will examine nineteenth-century authors who wrote about New York City, the site where the forces of modernity made their earliest and most concentrated appearance in America. Nineteenth-century New York will be a focal point for exploring crucial changes in American literature, culture and social life. We will be paying attention to changes in interiority and feeling (the experience of walking city streets, the desire to go shopping, new sensations in speed, time, and place, new forms of social belonging) as well as examining profound changes in large social systems (global immigration and travel, the emergence of mass culture, the redefining of kinship and family, the importance of ethnic and sexual subcultures). A field trip or optional research trip to New York may be part of the course.
The syllabus will include some sociological texts on the category of modernity (Simmel, Weber, Giddens). Literary works will probably include: Poe stories; Whitman, Leaves of Grass; Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener,”; Jose Martî, from Our America; Dreiser, Sister Carrie; Yezierska, Bread Givers; Crane, New York sketches; Wharton, Twilight Sleep; Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.