English 203

Graduate Readings: American Literature and the American Ugly Laws, 1881-1991

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Fall 2005 Schweik, Susan
Schweik, Susan
223 Wheeler TTh 2-3:30

Other Readings and Media

Hawthorne, N.: The Scarlet Letter; Melville, H. L.: The Confidence Man; Lombroso, C.: Criminal Woman, the Prostitute, and the Normal Woman; Riis, J.: How the Other Half Lives; Sinclair, U.: The Jungle; Faulkner, W.: The Sound and the Fury; Heyward, DuBose, Porgy; Longmore, P. and L. Umansky, eds.: The New Disability History; Snyder, S., et al.: Enabling the Humanities; Moya, P. and M. Hames-Garcia: Reclaiming Identity; Cresswell, T.: The Tramp in America; Johnson, E.P.: Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity; course reader


"""It is hereby prohibited for any person, who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or deformed in any way, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, to expose himself to public view."" Between 1881 and the First World War, cities around the U.S. passed or attempted to pass versions of this ordinance, which was commonly known as the ""ugly law."" (San Francisco, for instance, enacted the law in 1903.) The last known arrest, astonishingly, took place in 1974. In this course we will take a multirepresentational approach to selected moments in American culture(s), exploring some of what lay behind, proceeded from, surrounded and constituted the texture of this ordinance, and more broadly considering when and how, for what ends and with what effects, American literature has ""exposed"" the ""unsightly"" to public view. This is not a course ""about"" the ugly law but rather a course that takes off from the text of the ordinance to explore a range of issues for American studies: historical (such as histories of disability, vagrancy, ""the veteran"" and Progressive-era reform), literary historical (how, for instance, literary movements--naturalism, modernism, disability arts--place themselves in relation to the ""diseased, maimed, mutilated"" and the ""ugly""); cultural (we will examine a variety of performance modes and venues--vaudeville, blues, Chautauqua, freak show, silent film and contemporary theater) and theoretical (we'll think about potential intersections between recent work in disability theory and work in queer theory, gender theory, post-colonial theory, critical race theory, urban studies and legal studies). I intend the course to function as a ranging, eccentric survey of American literature as well as a graduate-level introduction to disability studies broadly construed. ""Disability is everywhere in history, once you begin looking for it,"" Douglas Baynton has written, ""but conspicuously absent in the histories we write."" Bring your own Americanist interests to this seminar and together we will make ""disability"" (what is that?) present within them. Your papers need not be limited to disability studies topics, though I expect that seminar participants will leave the course alert to disability as--in Baynton's words--""a fundamental element in cultural signification."" "

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