American Literature from 1789 to 1900

Course Number: ENGL 103A
Prerequisites: Writing 2, or 50, or 109, or English 10 or upper-division standing
General Education Areas Fulfilled: Check on GOLD
Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 103A
Quarter: Summer A 2012
Day(s): MTWR
Time: 3:30 - 4:35 PM
Location: GIRV 1115
Not open for credit to students who have completed 136B.
Nations aren't born; they're made. During this 2012 election season we will take a hard look at the formative period of the United States through its literature. We'll try to gain as many perspectives as possible on an inherently slippery phenomenon: a nation and a people in a process of becoming. How were competing notions of nationhood and identity circulated in the discourse of the late 18th and early 19th century, and what effects did they produce? We'll consider the "United States" not as a fixed entity, but as a series of discursive productions; not only a collection of attitudes and social formations reflected in its contemporary texts but as a set of (sometimes opposing) identities constructed through the very circulation of those texts. How did a set of "national characteristics" come to be defined, and at what cost? In producing a new identity, "The American," which types and identities were excluded; who was the American defined against? What were the competing claims on identity made by "Old World" ancestry, religion, and economic interests? The stabilization of an American identity was never a fait accompli; these processes are ongoing to the present day. We will attempt to trace a series of becomings and mutations through American literature from these formative texts through the literary masterpieces of the antebellum period (including Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Melville, and others) and through the explosive fragmentation of American identity during the Civil War and westward expansion, as the "one size fits all" American identity ruptured from the pressures of what it was meant to contain, producing a rich panoply of literature in the second half of the 19th century that trace many of the fault lines and sites of twenty-first century contestations of identity, values, and relationships to nature, land, and the world at large in the not-so-United States.