Fulfills Distributional Course in Arts & Letters (for students admitted before Fall 2006) [Formerly ENGL 083] John Milton wrote of the “dark materials” that exist before the creation of a world. Nineteenth century American writers had a plethora o
In the last 25 years, the idea of American literature's "origins" has changed dramatically. In the 1980s, anthologies of American literature consistently began with Puritan writings from 1630. Today, we recognize that the intellectual roots of "America" did not begin solely with British colonization, but include the writings of Spanish, French, and Dutch colonizers as well as the literature of women, African Americans, and Native Americans. The “texts” used for the class will include visits by an Ojibwe and a Cherokee storyteller, so that students can experience the Native American oral tradition first hand.
Focusing on the premise that our understanding of the past is always shaped by the politics of the present, the course will utilize texts from the colonial and pre-colonial period. In addition, we will also read books from later time periods looking back at the “origins of America,” including works by Hawthorne, contemporary African American women writers, and contemporary Native American authors. In doing so, the class will focus on the following questions: What changed in the late 20th century that created the shift in origins from 1630 to 1492 and allowed for a fuller awareness of the historic multicultural complexity of the continent? Does using 1492 as an “origin” date for American literary history continue to ignore pre-colonial Native American storytelling, which dates back to at least 1500 BC? How has American literary history changed as a result of recognizing that the “origins of America” can be traced back to Israel, England, Spain, Africa, and pre-colonial Native America?
Students will be required to write three essays (two will be five pages in length, the final will be ten pages long). Creativity will be strongly encouraged. Students will be allowed to decide on their own thesis statements, “papers” may take the form of storytelling, analytical essays, or web sites, and multi-media presentations will be encouraged.