ENGL 532 A: Nineteenth-Century American Literature

Is there an American Focal Center? Community, Dissonance, and Myths of Nationhood in the 19th Century U.S.

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 5:20pm
CMU 228
Bob Abrams
Robert Abrams

Syllabus Description:

Is there an American Focal Center?
Community, Dissonance, and Myths of Nationhood in the 19th Century U.S.

An exploration of the powers--and limits--of cultural mechanisms seeking to impart integrity and communalizing focus to a sprawling US society during the nineteenth century. At the outset, we’ll study US art and culture in general--maps, Currier and Ives engravings, and other cultural artifacts through the lens of which ostensible American wholeness and identity are imagined--as well as major theorists of the nation-building process such as Sacvan Bercovitch, Homi Bhabha, and Benedict Anderson. We’ll then proceed to focus throughout the remainder of the course on how the problem of a US focal center plays itself out in literary texts. To what degree do versions of a US communal imaginary become persuasive and credible against a backdrop that includes increasingly globalized, trans-national space, racial, class and gender inequities, Indian removal, immigration, slavery, and civil war? What sort of cultural work do rhetorics and symbols of American unity perform–-or fail to perform-–throughout this period? To what degree do symbolic affirmations of American unity require a supplementary amnesia: a forgetfulness of underlying conditions which much American literature and art then proceeds to remember?

Let me emphasize that by virtue of its very subject matter, this course gathers in a representative selection of literary and visual materials from across the spectrum of nineteenth-century American culture, and so serves to provide a fairly comprehensive guide to this period, and to nineteenth-century studies in general.

Readings will include the following (either in totality or by focusing on selections): Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes, in 1843; Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Portable Hawthorne; Whitman, Leaves of Grass; Whittier, Snow-Bound; Melville, Moby-Dick; Frederick Douglass, Narrative and My Bondage and My Freedom; Chief Seattle’s Speech and the text of the Indian Removal Act; W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk; Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills and Other Stories; Kate Chopin, The Awakening; Stephen Crane, The Portable Stephen Crane; Henry James, The American Scene.


Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 10:50pm