English R1A

Reading and Composition: The Making of Americans

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2019 de Stefano, Jason
MWF 10-11 233 Dwinelle

Book List

The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Volume B; Du Bois, W. E. B.: The Souls of Black Folk


Americans are not born but made, and who they become is bound up with what they make. This course explores the long and varied history of these linked assumptions, with a particular focus on the nineteenth century. It was in this period that a broad fascination with making became associated with the national character: from the constitution of the Early Republic and the rise of the nation as a world economic and political power; through the effort to reconstruct, in the wake of civil war, the nation's political community as a multiracial democracy; to the advent of the factory and assembly line, the automation of labor, and a national obsession with productivity and work. We will study how nineteenth-century writers sought to create a national literature adequate to make sense of these developments and to make sensible the diverse experiences of those who lived them. What did it mean to make a uniquely American work of art, and how did such works inform what it meant to be American? In what ways did Americans find in materials of their work a set of conceptual resources for imagining their role as citizens? We will also investigate problems posed by these preoccupations. What kinds of making were possible or proscribed for African Americans under and after slavery? How was labor, particularly creative labor, wielded both for and against segregation and exploitation? Finally, we will reflect on our own making, finding in the nineteenth century the historical roots of our own "maker culture" and of how we came to believe, in the words of the poet Frank Bidart, that "we are creatures who need to make."

R1A is designed to engage students in their own making through extensive writing. In this course you will develop your writing practice and hone your skills in critical thinking, rhetoric, and interpretive analysis by writing essays. To that end, we will ask: what is an essay, how do essays work, and what does it mean to create them? An essay is not only an exercise in composition but also "a trial, testing, proof"—an "experiment" (OED, "essay," n. 1a.). Assignments in this course will allow students to experiment with different kinds of writing, from informal reflections on course readings and concise prospectuses to longer argumentative essays. We will also test our work, as it were, through continuous and thoughtful peer review. The goal is to create an open and engaged conversation about writing well and how to make our writing better.Note the changes in the instructor, topic, course description, and texts for this section of English R1A (as of August 7).

Please note the changes in instructor, topic, course description, and book list for this section of English R1A (as of August 7).

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