In this course, we will address a set of literary texts written in the U.S. between (roughly) 1790 and 1860, not as examples of a seemingly self-evident category --“early national American literature,” -- but rather as an opportunity to interrogate the relation between literature and nationality. By what logic and to what extent can various forms of literary production in the early United States be assembled under a rubric of early national culture? What has counted as “early national American literature” at different historical moments and across different cultural and institutional contexts? We will begin by considering how issues of citizenship and national belonging are at stake in the literary texts themselves. Our reading will focus on selected works of early national and antebellum literature with emphasis on the way this writing intervenes in wider public debates on identity, rights, freedom, and property. Relatedly, we will explore competing definitions of the literary in the period and how ideologies of nationhood are linked to norms of literary value.
I am still pondering the selection of materials, but the syllabus will possibly include Charlotte Temple, Wieland, Hobomok, The Heroic Slave, Benito Cereno, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, as well as short fiction by Sarah Willis Parton (Fanny Fern), Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Catherine Sedgwick. Critical materials will likely include work by Jacques Derrida, Michael Warner, Cathy Davidson, Joan Dayan , Priscilla Wald, and Valerie Smith.