Megan A Miller
Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.
For Winter 2008: This course will focus on American travel writing in order to introduce you to some of the major writers, issues, and themes in American literature. We will read some fiction and poetry, but most of our readings will be literary nonfiction (often just as fanciful as the fiction and poetry). We will begin with William Bartram’s Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida…, which recounts the author’s survey of the landscape and natural history of the Southeastern colonies in the 1770s. We will read a few nineteenth-century texts that travel beyond national borders, including Herman Melville’s “The Encantadas” and John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and the Yucatan (1841), to examine how American writers imagined their own national history in relation to the landscapes and people of Central America and the South Pacific. Our other nineteenth-century texts will include Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad (1869), which takes a humorous look at American tourists, and W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903), an ostensible railroad journey that documents the racial and economic terrain of the American South. Our twentieth century texts will include poems by Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, and John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts’ Logbook from the Sea of Cortez, an account of their trip to Baja California on the eve of WWII. (The purpose of the trip was to collect specimens of marine life, but the logbook also recounts plenty of beer-drinking and armchair-philosophizing.) All of this is to say that we will read a wide variety of travel narratives, and discuss their bearing on American literature in a number of ways.
The discussions and assignments will be designed to help you improve your ability to think critically and write analytically about our readings. More generally, the course is meant to give you a broad sense of how a cross-section of American writers have imagined their relationship to (their) contemporary culture, the national past, and the North American continent. There will be two midterms and a final essay, and daily participation will be a crucial part of your grade in the course.
Textbooks: William Bartram’s Travels; John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and the Yucatan; Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad; W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk; John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, Logbook from the Sea of Cortez; plus a photocopied course pack.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading