Topics in Early American Literature: The Free and the Unfree in the Age of Revolution
“Freedom” was a pervasive and contested concept throughout the Atlantic world of the late 18th and early 19th century. In this seminar we will look at literature during this age of revolution that explores ideas of freedom and its denial in various forms—enslavement, captivity, and imprisonment, to name a few. We will consider the ways both familiar and marginalized writers challenged different institutions of imperial expansion, nation-making, and capital accumulation. Our reading will include slave and captivity narratives, stories of piracy, gothic novels, and writing about crime and prisons. We will likely read texts by Olaudah Equiano, Susanna Rowson, Charles Brockden Brown, Catherine Maria Sedgwick, Edgar Allan Poe, and Herman Melville. But we will also look at writing by lesser-known historical figures that were circulating and confined throughout the Atlantic world during this historical moment. This will be an interdisciplinary course that includes legal, political, and historical writing to help us situate and contextualize the literary narratives and genres we encounter. Students will also have an opportunity to take advantage of archival and other resources throughout Philadelphia, a city that embodied many of the contradictions of freedom that we will explore throughout the semester.