English R1B

Reading and Composition: Evidence of Things Not Seen

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2017 de Stefano, Jason
MWF 12-1 262 Dwinelle Reading and Composition

Book List

Brown, Charles Brockden: Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist; Waterman, Bryan, ed.: The Salem Witch Trials Reader

Other Readings and Media

All other readings will be provided in a course reader.


The biblical book of Hebrews famously defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1, KJV). But in eighteenth-century Europe and North America, “unseen” things were as much a matter of faith as a problem of knowledge. Theories of the occult, notions of the supernatural, and supposedly miraculous events were increasingly submitted to empirical inquiry, scientific scrutiny, and rational analysis. Meanwhile, technological innovations like the microscope suddenly made visible entire worlds of objects that had never before been seen. This course will examine how literature of the long eighteenth century sought to represent, examine, and analyze supernatural, miraculous, occult, or otherwise obscure phenomena. We’ll ask how our authors sought to define and codify what counted as evidence of things, supernatural or otherwise, that were not or could not be clearly seen. Readings will vary across disciplines, from scientific texts like Robert Hooke’s treatise on microscopes and Isaac Newton’s on optical physics, to documentary accounts of events like the Salem witchcraft crisis, to works of fiction and poetry that deal in hauntings, miracles, and visitations from “beyond” the natural world.

Of course, R1B is also designed to engage students in extensive essay writing and informed scholarly research. To that end, we will use questions and discussions about evidence from our readings as a platform on which to think about what counts as evidence in our own research projects, what kinds to use, and how best to do so. In this course you will develop your writing practice and experiment with and hone your skills in scholarly research, critical thinking, and intellectual analysis by writing and reading texts that are concerned with evidence and research. Appropriately, the history of the word essay is tied to histories of evidence and experimentation. In its original sense, an essay is “a trial, testing, proof”—an “experiment” (OED, entry 1a.). Writing assignments in this course will allow students to experiment with different kinds of research methodologies. We will also put our work on trial, as it were, through continuous and thoughtful peer review. The goal is less to critique, however, than to create an open and engaged conversation about writing well and how to make our own writing better.

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