English 90

Practices of Literary Study: Walt Whitman and the Idea of America

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Fall 2022 Nathan, Jesse
TuTh 9:30-11 Wheeler 305


Whitman worked on Leaves of Grass for forty years, over at least six editions. In this course we'll devote ourselves to reading Leaves of Grass, comparing versions as well as reading selections from his prose, such as his famous 1855 preface and various Civil War sketches, including those published in Specimen Days. To deepen our sense of Whitman's context, we'll also read short selections from some of his contemporaries: Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sojourner Truth, and Mark Twain. Our aim will be to understand what Whitman's styles, forms, methods, and principles have to say about the idea of America, and democracy in general. In a larger sense, we'll try to understand what was going on in American literature at the very moment that the generous, idealistic conception of America collided with the barbarism of the slave system that built it. Requirements include two four-page essays and one six-page essay, as well as regular attendance and participation in discussion. 

Books: Whitman: Prose and Poetry (please find this exact edition: published by Library of America, ISBN 978-1-883011-35-2).

Other Media: Course reader selections handed out by instructor.

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Back to Semester List