English and Film Studies

ENGL 358 A1: American Literature and Culture: Early American Writings - Colonial, Revolutionary, Antebellum

M. Simpson

What do we mean when we speak of “American literature”? In what ways and to what ends does literature, broadly understood, illuminate subjectivity and belonging in the American instance? These questions will frame our work in this course. We will approach them by way of six interrelated rubrics: possession, publicity, faith, liberty, mobility, and dissent. These encompass a number of issues relevant to the period under study: colonial contact and the discourse of discovery; Native American dislocation and resistance; religious authority and controversy; revolution, republicanism, and the contours of nationalism; the rise of capitalism; territorial expansion and imperial desire; struggles over slavery and suffrage; the politics of social class; the conditions of literary-cultural production. In undertaking to explore such issues, we will be raising questions of labor and value—literary, but also economic, social, and political—so as to examine the often volatile dynamics of representation at work in early American writing. Our study will cover a range of genres, including institutional history, travel writing, autobiography, sermon, political tract, occasional essay, poetry, and fiction.