Haunted Landscapes: Sense of Place in Nineteenth-Century America
A study of frailty of sense of place in nineteenth-century U.S. literature and culture, including a look backward at the precarious sense of place that emerged during the troubled origins of British colonial America, when white colonial settlers and indigenous peoples envisioned the continental landscape in dramatically different ways. On the one hand, controlling the perception and intelligibility of landscape, and situating it within the US national imaginary, are fundamental to an expansionary American nationalism in an era of so-called “Manifest Destiny.” Such projection of US nationhood into landscape and topographical feature includes: 1) maps organizing an initially alien continent into sections and townships mandated by the Congressional Land Ordinance of 1785, effectually insuring what William Boelhower terms a “single bounded juridical space” whereby great variations in climate and topography become visible in print as a “uniform” geometric language; 2) picturesque, highly aestheticized images of national landscape, widely circulated in picture-books or available on museum canvas, that cater to a growing geographic chauvinism while often relying, nevertheless, on European painterly techniques extending all the way back to the seventeenth century; 3) the emergence in art and writing of an American sublime whereby natural spectacles such as Niagara Falls are located within a specifically nationalized geography while ostensibly endowing such geography with a timeless, sacred dimension. But even as sense of landscape is controlled and mediated through such organizing lenses, a counter-sensitivity develops to the way landscape ultimately remains in the play of culturally mediated truth, falling between, for example, Western paintings and cartography and an alternative sense of landscape that writers such as Thoreau and Margaret Fuller begin to develop in studying native tribal cultures. In what will be predominantly a literary course supplemented by extra-literary cultural materials, our focus will be on how landscape remains an unsettled question rather than a site of visual and cartographical closure in the antebellum US.
Primary readings in such authors Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, John Greenleaf Whittier, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Chief Seattle (the putative author of a “Speech” actually encompassing colliding viewpoints and voices, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman); secondary readings will include W.J. T. Mitchell on landscape as a registry of cultural power, Angela Miller on nineteenth-century American painting, and chapters from my own book on “landscape and ideology”; extra-literary cultural materials will include maps, paintings, and lithography.