Apocalyptic Hope: the Literature of the American Renaissance
T-Th 10:00 - 11:20 (D38)
Teacher: John Sheehy
This course will center on the "American Renaissance" -- the period of intense intellectual and artistic energy between 1830 and 1870 that produced some of the most memorable and enduring American literature. We will examine as much of that literature as we can, in a range of genres: slave narratives from Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup and Harriet Jacobs, essays from Emerson and Thoreau, novels from Harriet Beecher Stowe, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and others, poetry from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. Our goal in examining these works will always be double: on the simplest level, we will be interested in how these writers interpreted and responded to the places and times in which they lived; on a deeper level, though, we will consider how each of these works--and all of them together--attempts to create something we might call now an "American consciousness" -- to invent, or re-invent, America.
The point of the course is to read as much as we can, to develop a nuanced understanding of both canonical and non-canonical 19th century American literature, and to consider how that literature has helped to shape not just the way we think about our literature, but the way we think about ourselves as Americans. This will NOT be a writing seminar: it will involve far too much reading for that. Students, though, will be expected to write about what they read on a regular basis, to lead discussions, and to write a midterm paper and seminar paper at the end.