ENGL 358 A1: American Texts to 1900

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? Our focus, in addressing these questions, will involve literary cultures and practices from the long nineteenth century, which we will approach by way of six interrelated rubrics: possession, publicity, faith, liberty, mobility, and dissent. These rubrics encompass a number of issues relevant to the period under study: revolution, republicanism, and nationalism; Native American dislocation and resistance; religious authority and controversy; the emergent contours of capitalism; territorial expansion and imperial desire; slavery and its afterlives; struggles over suffrage; the politics of social class; protest, discord, and fracture; the conditions of literary-cultural production. In undertaking to explore such issues, we will confront 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 American writing before 1900. Our study will cover a range of genres, including autobiography, political tract, travelogue, essay, poetry, and fiction.