English 130B

American Literature: 1800-1865

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2013 McQuade, Donald
TTh 12:30-2 note new room: 9 Lewis

Book List

Douglass, Frederick: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave & Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Other Readings and Media

A course reader


In Beneath the American Renaissance, David Reynolds argues that “delving beneath the American Renaissance occurs in two senses: analysis of the process by which hitherto neglected popular modes and stereotypes were imported into literary texts; and the discovery of a number of forgotten writings which, while often raw, possess a surprising energy and complexity that make them worthy of a study on their own.”  In this class we will consider many of the major authors of the period (for example: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Emily Dickinson) against the vibrant backdrop of antebellum politics and popular culture.  

This was an age when Andrew Jackson redefined the presidency and James K. Polk expanded the nation’s territory.  This was also a period of violent mobs, Barnum’s freaks, all-seeing mesmerists, polygamous prophets, temperance advocates, revivalist preachers, and resolute feminists. The literature and popular culture of the 1830s, 40s, and 50s bear witness to democracy caught in the throes of the controversy over slavery, the rise of capitalism, and the birth of urbanization.  In the midst of this turbulence, a remarkable range of mass cultural forms surfaced, including P.T. Barnum's American Museum, the moving panorama, and an early form of photography called daguerreotype.

Together, we will read, talk, and write about a great deal of the major literature of this era, study fascinating examples of the popular culture of the period, and explore the emergent cultural practices that make the antebellum period such an instructive and significant period in American cultural history.  We will focus on issues of "self" (the search for transcendence and the complexities of relations); the Puritan legacy; the landscape; the democratic experiment; the efforts to reform the American character; and the struggles over the rights and roles of women, African Americans, and Native Americans in the expanding nation.  Two midterms — or essays — and a final examination will be required.


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