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Topics in Early American Literature

ENGL 243.301

In the eyes of the early British colonists, the United States was alternately a garden of Eden and a terrifying wilderness. In this seminar, we will consider how attitudes towards Nature influenced national identity from the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century. We will pay particular attention to how ideas about land and animals get caught up in discourses of race and gender. For example, Native Americans were both valorized and demonized for their perceived closer relationship to nature. In many early American texts, they function simultaneously as environmental ambassadors to Anglo-American colonists and as impediments to colonial expansion and cohesion. Readings will draw from a variety of sources such as early natural history, gothic fiction, philosophical texts, and poetry, and may include J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly, Gilbert Imlay’s The Emigrants, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature. We may also take a field trip to Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia.

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