American Literature to 1900: Nation and Narration, Syllabus

American Literature to 1900:
Nation and Narration

English 341, Spring 1996

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13
Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life: Youth, 1842, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Name of Instructor
Laura Arnold
When It's Offered:
Spring 1997
Days It Meets:
MWF 1-2
Two 200 level English courses or consent of instructor


This class investigates how the diverse literary genres of the American Renaissance have been used to construct a national identity in the mid-nineteenth-century, the 1940s, and the 1990s. We will use the theories of Homi Bhabha, Benedict Anderson, and Werner Sollors to examine the role of narrative strategies. We will also examine issues such as Transcendentalism, immigration, urbanization, religion, race, feminism, domesticity, masculinity, and nature in the formation of a "national" identity and culture. Throughout the semester we will be analyzing the ways in which art, architecture, urban planning, philosophy, tourism, music, and historical texts from this period enrich our understanding of American Romanticism.

Required Readings

Course Reader (available in bookstore)
Fuller, Essential Margaret Fuller
Hawthorne, Blithedale Romance
Melville, Moby-Dick
Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin
Jacobs, Incidents in the Life
Douglass, Narrative of the Life
Thoreau, Walden
Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Eisler, Lowell Offering

OPTIONAL TEXTS (ALSO ON RESERVE): Essentials of the Theory of Fiction, ed. Michael Hoffman and Patrick Murray
Emerson, Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson
Homi Bhabha, Nation and Narration
Bartlett, American Mind in the Mid-19th Century


I. Intellectual Roots of the American Renaissance:
The Paradox of Self Reliance

Week 1: In Search of a National Literature

M 1/27 Introduction: the American Renaissance 1830-1996
  1. Introduction to Course
  2. Narrative Strategies
  3. Background for Friday's Readings
  4. Discussion Leaders


    F 1/31 The Nation 1830-65: What is a Nation?
    Primary Texts: Emerson, "American Scholar" (Reader)
    Channing, "National Literature" (Reader)
    Ernest Renan, "What is a Nation?" (Nation and Narration, ed. Homi Bhabha: 8-22)

    The Nation 1940-90: Aesthetics, the Cold War, and the "New" Diversity
    F.O. Matthiessen, "In the Optative Mood" (American Renaissance 3-44)
    David Shumay, "F.O. Matthiessen and a New Criticism of American Literature" (Creating American Civilization 222-260)

    Vince's Discussion Paper

    Week 2: Romanticism, Transcendentalism, Nature, and Independence

    M 2/3 Transcendentalism and the Narrative of Romanticism
    Primary Texts: Shelley, "Mont Blanc" (handout)
    Hedge, "Coleridge" (handout)
    Coleridge, "On the imagination" (handout)
    Samson Reed, "Oration on Genius" (handout)
    Carlyle, "The Everlasting Yea" (handout)
    Brownson, "Everlasting Yes" (handout)
    NOTE: there are extra copies of the handout outside Laura's office (CC307)

    W 2/5 Transcendentalism and the Narratives of Independence
    Primary Texts: Emerson, "Self-Reliance" (Reader)
    Godey's Lady's Book (on line: Museum of Material Culture Web Site)
    Essays: Byrde, "The Romantic Spirit: Women's Dress 1825-1850" (Nineteenth Century Fashion: 38-52)

    F 2/7 Transcendentalism and the Narrative of Nature
    Primary Texts: Emerson, "Nature" (Reader)
    Bryant, "A Forest Hymn" (Reader)
    On-line Essay: "Nature and the American Identity"

    Brooke's Discussion Paper

    II. The American Landscape and the American Self

    Week 3: Inventing an American Heritage Through Landscape

    M 2/10 The Culture of American Landscape: Men on the Move
    Primary Texts: Hawthorne, "The Great Stone Face," "My Visit to Niagara" (Reader)
    Nineteenth-Century Art on Landscape and Niagara Falls
    Essays: Dona Brown, "The Uses of Scenery: Scenic Touring in the White Mountains," (Inventing New England)

    Michael's Discussion Paper

    W 2/12 The Female Self in Motion
    Primary Texts: Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes (Chapters 1-4)
    Essays: Fuller's Women in the Nineteenth-Century, pp. 247-58, 309-313, 341-end
    Recommended: Showalter, "Towards a Feminist Poetics" (Essentials of the Theory of Fiction, pp. 380-402).

    Kathryn's Discussion Paper

    F 2/14 Otherness and the Narratives of Nation
    Primary Texts: Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes (Chapters 5-7)
    George Catlin's Paintings and Drawings of American Indians
    Essays: Sollors, The Invention of Ethnicity, pp. ix-xx, 226-235

    Kyle's Discussion Paper

    Week 4: Filling the Landscape

    M 2/17 The Economics of Experience
    Primary Texts: Thoreau, Walden, Chapters 1-3 (pp. 1-75)
    1. Either the Introduction to our text or Thoreau's CyberSaunter.
    2. Edward Said's Beginnings: Intention and Method. NY: Basic Books, 1975: 3-26. Andrew's Discussion Paper

      W 2/19 Nature and Narration
      Primary Texts: Thoreau, Walden
      Essay: Miller, "The Iconography of Wrecked Ships"
      Jamie's Discussion Paper

      Evening Film: A River Runs Through It

      • WHEN: 8-10:30 pm tonight
      • WHERE: CC234

      F 2/21 American Manhood
      Primary Texts: Thoreau, Walden
      Essay: David Leverenz, Manhood and the American Renaissance (9-41)

      III. Reforming the America: Utopia, The City, and the Laboring Classes

      Week 5: Utopian Fantasies: Brook Farm

      M 2/24 The Idea of Community
      Primary Text: Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (Bedford Cultural Edition, 1-47)
      Essays: "The Idea of Community" (selections TBA)
      Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (selections TBA)
      Tom's Discussion Paper

      W 2/26 Life at Brook Farm
      Primary Text: Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (47-109)
      Essays: "Life at Brook Farm" (403-457)
      Kyle's Discussion Paper

      F 2/28 The Future of the Nation
      Primary Text: Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (109-end)
      Brooke's Discussion Paper

      S 3/1 Landscape Paper Due (4-5 pages)

      Week 6: The (Un)Happy Community

      M 3/3 The Laboring Classes and the Ideal State
      Primary Texts: Brownson, "The Laboring Classes," (234-47)
      Theodore Parker, "A Sermon of the Dangerous Classes" (287-300)
      Marx and Engels, from The Communist Manifesto (224-33)

      W 3/5 The Laboring Classes Respond
      Primary Text: The Lowell Offering pp. 13-112
      Strongly Recommended: "Women's Roles and Rights" (Bedford Cultural Edition Blithedale Romance) pp. 457-84
      Adam's Discussion Paper

      F 3/7 Nature, Family, and Childhood at Lowell
      Primary Text: Lowell Offering 133-59, 197-210
      Essay: Sandi Fox, "Literary Influences" (Small Endearments: Nineteenth -Century Quilts for Children and Dolls, pp. 111-127)

      Bridget's Discussion Paper

      IV. War and the National Form Under Fire

      Weeks 7 & 8: The War With Mexico and the Search for a National Form

      M 3/10 Moby-Dick as a Classic
      Primary Text: Melville, Moby-Dick, pp. 1-100
      Suggested Essays: Melville Bibliography
      Today's Essays:
      1. Bryan Wolf, "When is a Painting Most Like a Whale?: Ishmael, Moby-Dick, and the Sublime" (New Essays 141-80)
      2. Robert Martin, "Our Heart's Honeymoon" (Hero, Captain, Stranger, 67-94)
        Tracy's Discussion Paper
        Caitlin's Discussion Paper

        W 3/12 Moby-Dick as Political Allegory
        Primary Text: Melville, Moby-Dick, pp. 100-175
        Essay: Duban, "Nationalism and Providence in Ishmael's White World" (Melville's Major Fiction
        Jonathan's Discussion Paper

        F 3/14 Moby-Dick
        Primary Text: Melville, Moby-Dick, pp. 175-250
        Essay: "National Longing for Form"
        How and Why to Make a Web Page

        S 3/15 Landscape Paper Revision &/or web page due

        M 3/17 Moby-Dick
        Primary Text: Melville, Moby-Dick, pp. 250-350
        Essay: Toni Morrison, "Unspeakable Things Unspoken" (Michigan Quarterly)
        Michael's Discussion Paper

        W 3/19 Calvinism and Moby-Dick
        Primary Text: Melville, Moby-Dick, pp. 350-425
        Essay: Channing, "The Moral Argument Against Calvinism"
        For Today's Class: Bring a one page close reading of a paragraph from Moby-Dick that will enhance our discussion of religion in the book.
        For Your Interest: a Student Web Page from the University of Virginia that uses visual images to aid a textual analysis of Moby-Dick

        F 3/21 Moby-Dick
        Primary Text: Melville, Moby-Dick, pp. 425-end
        Essay: Donald Pease, "Melville and Cultural Persuasion" (Visionary Compacts 235-75)
        Jenny's Discussion Paper

        3/22-30 Spring Break

        Weeks 9 & 10: Slavery and the Domestic Narrative

        M 3/31 Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin
        Primary Text: Uncle Tom's Cabin--Introduction and at least 100 pages of the novel.
        Suggested Essays: See Stowe Bibliography
        For today: Susan Nuernberg, "The Rhetoric of Race" (The Stowe Debate, ed. Lowance et. al.: 255-70)
        Historical Resources:

        1. U.S. Historical Documents Concerning Slavery
        2. Historical Summaries and on-line resources, 1847-77 (History 103, Oberlin College)
        3. Thomas Jefferson on Slavery
        4. The Bible (?) and Slavery
        W 4/2 Uncle Tom's Cabin
        Primary Text: Uncle Tom's Cabin at least 100 pages of the novel.
        Essay: Ellwood Parry, "The Slavery Issue and the Indian Issue" (The Image of the Indian and the Black Man in American Art, 97-127)
        Also: Nineteenth-Century American Art by and about African Americans
        Nineteenth-Century American Images of American Indians
        Art, Material Culture, and Resources on Slavery

        F 4/4 Uncle Tom's Cabin
        Primary Text: Uncle Tom's Cabin at least 100 pages of the novel.
        Essay: Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture: 3-13, 44-79
        Also: Plantation Architecture (on line: Museum of Material Culture Web Site)

        M 4/7 Uncle Tom's Cabin


        W 4/9 Uncle Tom's Cabin


        F 4/11 Uncle Tom's Cabin


        Film: Tongues Untied (schedule TBA)

        Week s 11 & 12: Roots of An African American Narrative Tradition

        M 4/14 The American Self

        Primary Texts: Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life

        Sorrow Songs (on line: Museum of Material Culture Web Site)

        Essay: Stepto, "I Rose and Found My Voice"

        W 4/16 African Narratives in the National Narrative

        Primary Texts: Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life

        Essay: Gates, "The Trope of the Talking Book" (Siginifying Monkey)

        F 4/18 Research Paper Due; Web Workshop--meet in Library 18

        M 4/21 Revisioning the Woman's Place

        Primary Text: Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life

        Essays: Lang, "Autobiography in the Aftermath of Romanticism"

        Frances Smith Foster, "Writing Across the Color Line"

        Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mother's Gardens

        W 4/23 Writing Across the Color Line

        Primary Text: Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life


        F 4/25 Women's Work and Cultural Production

        Primary Text: Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life

        Quilts (on line: Museum of Material Culture)


        Week 13: The Voice of the People

        M 4/28 Only a Language Experiment?

        Primary Texts: Whitman, "Song of Myself"

        Emerson, "The Poet"

        Recommended Essays: Matthiessen "Only A Language Experiment"

        W 4/30 Whitman, Art and the City

        Primary Text: Whitman, "Song of Myself," (cont.) "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,"

        Recommended Essays: Elizabeth Johns, "America on Canvas, America in Manuscript"

        Alan Trachtenberg, "Whitman's Lesson of the City"

        Wai Chee Dimock, "Whitman, and the Problem of the Vernacular"

        F 5/2 Whitman and the War

        Primary Texts: Whitman, "The Dalliance of the Eagles," "Beat! Beat! Drums!" "Cavalry Crossing a Ford," "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night"

        Civil War Songs and Photographs (on line: Museum of Material Culture Web Site)

        Recommended Essays: Michael Cadden, "Engendering F.O.M.: The Private Life of American Renaissance

        Tom Yingling, "Homosexuality and Utopian Discourse in American Poetry"

        S 5/3 Web Version of Research Paper Due (Seniors May Turn in by 5/12)

        Questions? Contact Laura at

        url of this page -- Revised: 7/2/96
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