English R1A

Reading and Composition: Writing and Rights: Literature and the Fight against Oppression in Nineteenth-Century America

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
9 Fall 2014 Sirianni, Lucy
TTh 2-3:30 222 Wheeler

Book List

Keller, Helen: The World I Live In; Stowe, Harriet Beecher: Uncle Tom's Cabin

Other Readings and Media

A course reader containing works by Lydia Maria Child, Mary L. Day, Frederick Douglass, Margaret Fuller, Frances E. W. Harper, E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), Lydia Sigourney, James Whitfield, Zitkala-Sa, and others


"The artist ...  is the holiest reformer of them all, for she is creating."-- Paulina Wright Davis, The Una, 1854

"Polemics ...  are not likely to be epics.  They are likely to be pamphlets, even when they are disguised as stories and plays."-- Albert Murray, The Omni-Americans, 1970

Nineteenth-century America witnessed a blossoming of reformist zeal.  A diverse array of activists fought for such disparate causes as temperance, free love, and the expansion of missionary work.  In our course, we will take up four of the most galvanizing and far-reaching social movements of the era: the battles for the rights of Native Americans, slaves, women, and individuals with disabilities.  More specifically, we will take up a variety of novels, short stories, and poems produced by and for these movements, asking how literature transformed and was transformed by the reformist projects considered.  How can the act of turning from the "real" to the fictional render the author or artist "the holiest reformer of them all?" Are the categories of "polemic" and "epic"--activism and artistry--truly mutually exclusive? In short, what kind of change could literature hope to create, and what kind of literature would be created by the hope of social change?

Throughout the course, we will be attuned not only to the role of writing in the nineteenth century but also to its importance for you as students and thinkers.  Over the course of the semester, you will outline, draft, workshop, write, and rewrite three papers, refining along the way your ability to read closely and write persuasively.

Back to Semester List