Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Slavery and the Literary Imagination

ENGL 057.001
MW 5-6:30

From the time of Columbus's voyages to the end of the 19th century, over ten million enslaved people were brought from Africa to the Americas, where millions more were born into slavery. These facts have been central to the literary expression and understanding of the human condition, even in works where slavery is not the principal topic. What does the literary imagination make of slavery? And what does slavery make of the literary imagination? Guided by these twinned questions, we will study a wide variety of works by major English-language authors who wrote in or about the Americas (North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean) during the age of slavery—authors such as John Smith, Aphra Behn, Daniel Defoe, John Gay, Benjamin Franklin, Phillis Wheatley, Olaudah Equiano, William Wordsworth, Edgar Allan Poe, Frederick Douglass, Fanny Kemble, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and Mark Twain. We will also explore the curious case of a West Indian slaveholder who, after renouncing slavery and going insane, wrote some very unusual poems about this transformation. Course requirements will include a combination of short essays and exams, plus other short, informal exercises.

fulfills requirements
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Cultural Diversity in the US of the College's General Education Curriculum