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
8 Fall 2017 Sirianni, Lucy
TTh 12:30-2 211 Dwinelle Reading and Composition

Book List

Douglass, Frederick: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself; Fern, Fanny: Ruth Hall and Other Writings; Keller, Helen: The World I Live In; Stowe, Harriet Beecher: Uncle Tom's Cabin

Other Readings and Media

A course reader containing short works by William Apess, Mary L. Day, Helen DeKroyft, Sarah Mapps Douglass, Elsie Fuller, Frances E. W. Harper, E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Lydia Sigourney, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, William Walker, Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin), 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

The American nineteenth century was quintessentially an era of social reform, as a diverse array of activists fought for a broad range of political causes and societal improvements. 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 imaginative render the author or artist "the holiest reformer we have"? Are the categories of "polemic" and "epic"—activisim 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 today. The course is designed to develop the skills necessary for college-level writing, so over the course of the semester, you will outline, draft, workshop, write, and rewrite a series of papers, refining along the way your ability to read meticulously and write persuasively. After our work together, you will have engaged in numerous ways with an exciting array of primary texts from a dynamic and turbulent series of historical moments. More broadly, you can expect to read texts more closely, to write more clearly, to speak more confidently, and to think more critically not only within the context of this course but in your future studies at Berkeley and beyond.

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