This seminar will examine the concept of “modernity” by exploring the way nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors wrote about New York City. How did literature capture distinctive kinds of new experience and perception? We will be exploring changes in interiority and feeling (the experience of walking city streets, the desire to go shopping, new sensations in speed, time, and place, new forms of social belonging) as well as examining the transformation of large social systems (global immigration and travel, the emergence of mass culture, the redefining of kinship and family, the importance of ethnic and sexual subcultures). A field trip or optional research trip to New York City may be part of the course.
The syllabus will include some sociological texts on the category of modernity. Literary works may include: Edgar Allan Poe stories; Lydia Maria Child, Letters from New York; Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass; Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener”; Jose Martî, from Our America; Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie; Abraham Cahan, “Yekl,” Stephen Crane, New York sketches; W.E.B. DuBois “The Comet,” Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth; James Weldon Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Assignments will consist of a a short paper and a longer research paper along with brief assignments.