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The American Renaissance – Fall 2017

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Known as the American Renaissance, the decades leading up to the Civil War are generally regarded not only as the peak moment in American literary expression but also as a watershed of cultural themes reaching back to colonial times and as a harbinger of modernist literary strategies. The American Renaissance saw the innovations in philosophy, ecological awareness, and style on the part of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau; the metaphysical depth and cultural breadth represented by the fiction of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne; the pre-modernist poetic experimentation of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; the psychological probing and ground-breaking aesthetics of Edgar Allan Poe; and landmark meditations on race and slavery by William Wells Brown, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass. Urban life and class conflict were dramatized in fiction by George Thompson and George Foster, and gender issues were vivified in writings by Margaret Fuller, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sara Parton, and others. In addition to reading central works of American literature—among them Moby-Dick, “Bartleby,” Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, The Scarlet Letter, Leaves of Grass, Walden, Poe’s tales, Emerson’s essays, and Dickinson’s poems–we discuss current approaches to American Studies, criticism, and literary theory.

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