The seminar will offer a selective but intensive introduction to American literature and American painting in the decades between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. The authors to be studied will include Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, T.S. Eliot, Henry James, W.E.B. Du Bois, and several major poets of the Harlem Renaissance, among others. The painters will include several members of the Hudson River School, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, the “Ash Can School” of the early 20th century, Georgia O’Keeffe, the artists of the Harlem Renaissance, Edward Hopper, and the abstract expressionists.
The paintings we examine are not intended merely as illustrations for the texts we read. The texts, in turn, are not intended merely as extended captions for the paintings. Instead, the comparative, interdisciplinary nature of the course will enable us to investigate the variety of ways in which artists and writers responded to some of the key events, trends, and debates of the period 1840-1950. As we proceed, we will also attempt to clarify the much-debated terms in the course title: realism, naturalism, and modernism.
Requirements will include two brief essays, together with mid-term and final exams.
Optional. I will arrange and guide visits to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, both of which have superb collections of American paintings.