Cultural Currents in American Literature

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This course considers groupings of American texts, from the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, organized around five themes: religion and philosophy, race and slavery, gender issues, the city, and revolution. What happens when we juxtapose seventeenth-century Puritan writings by Jonathan Edwards and Edward Taylor with later works on religion or philosophy by the likes of Emerson, Hawthorne, and William James? In what ways did antebellum slave narratives and Stowe’s antislavery best-seller “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” generate debates over race that resonated later in later American fiction and in W. E. B. Dubois’s “The Souls of Black Folk”? Is there a continuum in gender-specific devices and themes from the iconoclastic seventeenth-century poet Anne Bradstreet and to nineteenth-century writers like Margaret Fuller, Emily Dickinson, and Kate Chopin? How does urbanization influence the treatment of the American city we compare antebellum urban fiction and with a later urban novella like Stephen Crane’s “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,” and how does the portrayal of human bodies in such fiction (especially as considered in disability studies) align with shifting commentary on the body politic? How does the trope of revolution, develop from the Declaration of Independence through Nat Turner’s “Confessions” and responses to Anthony Burns and John Brown to Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” and “Billy Budd”? We’ll address these and other questions against the background of “turns” in recent Americanist scholarship—among them the hemispheric turn, the religious turn, the animal studies turn, the posthuman turn, and the disabilities turn—as well as the cultural turn in American historiography. Also brought to bear are contextual documents unearthed in archives, many of them now digitally available.

Cultural Currents in American Literature

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