David T Holmberg
Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.
A Crisis of Representation: Imagining the American Experience in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century American Literature
This course provides an introduction to the study of American literature and culture. Our central question in this class will be what is “American literature”? In order to help us answer this, or at least delve into the “contradictions” and “multitudes,” the class will focus on exploring how the representation of the American scene, generally, and of national identity, specifically, is both depicted in and constructed by American literature. Specifically we will focus on how the shifting realities of “American-ness” are represented in literature, and how literature in turn acts to create national identity as well as to create its own reality. This focus will allow us to ask some fundamental questions regarding the role of art in society: what part does literature play in the producing and shaping of a national identity? how does literature respond to historical change, and how is this a reciprocal process? how (and why) does fiction portray reality? This will be a challenging course, with both difficult texts and an intense reading pace. I have high expectations for your work in this course, as we will be reading and engaging with some complex readings and, at times, controversial topics. This class is not intended to be easy, but I believe it will be worthwhile one in your college education as it inspires you to appreciate the value of literature in society and its important role in our history and culture. Our primary authors will likely include Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Stephen Crane, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, and Wallace Stevens. Short stories, poetry, and secondary material will be available through a course pack.
Student learning goals
1. Students are able to contextualize and analyze the materials or topics covered, historically, politically, culturally.
2. Students are able to perform competent close readings of course texts and similar texts.
3. Students are acquainted with a range of texts useful to understanding the course topic and to doing future work in this area.
4. Students develop both an appreciation of literature and a lifelong habit of reading.
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading
Your grade in this course is based on four things: class participation, reading quizzes, a midterm, and a final.