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Early American Studies

ENGL 253.401
crosslisted as: HIST 231
Wednesday 2:00-5:00
fulfills requirements:
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Pre-1900 Seminar Requirement of the Standard Major

Nowadays many Early Americanists have turned to cultural history. There have been different reasons for such a shift, which is built on solid empirical foundations laid by demographers and social historians beginning in the early 1960s. One contributing element was surely the history of early American religion, always interested in what sermons and doctrinal reform meant for clergy and laity alike. Another element came from cultural anthropology, with its interest in specific communities and the textual webs of symbolic meaning that tied families to families, and individuals to one another. American art and material culture offered its concern with social aesthetics and questions of exchange value. Still another set of connections came as the walls between early American literature and early American history--disciplinary fences, as it were-- started to crumble. But no matter the perspective taken, these approaches intersect in reconstructing the systems of meaning that held colonial societies together and, on occasion, signaled their transformation. This semester we will be examining key moments in the emergence of the field, works that explore interdisciplinary methods and theoretical approaches as well as offering new models for historical narrative itself. And while most of our readings and discussion will explore changes in early American culture between 1600 and 1785-- or roughly from the period of imperial exploration and initial settlement to the Revolutionary settlement, and native reactions to settlement colonialism-- some aspects of early national and antebellum culture will fall within consideration