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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Travis J Sands
ENGL 353
Seattle Campus

American Literature: Later Nineteenth Century

Literary responses to an America propelled forward by accelerating and complex forces. Works by Twain, James, and such other writers as Whitman, Dickinson, Adams, Wharton, Howells, Crane, Dreiser, DuBois, and Chopin.

Class description

American Realisms, Fin de siecle Realities

This course will engage “American" literatures produced in the latter half of the 19th century—an era characterized by significant social, political, and economic transformations brought about by the failed promises of reconstruction, shifting ideologies of racial, gender, and sexual “progress," imperial forays in the American west and abroad, migration, urbanization, and the rise of industrial capitalism. These transformations resulted in multiple contestations over what constituted the grounds of “social reality" and “human nature" which emerged in the literature of writers working in Realist and Naturalist aesthetic modes. We will thus focus on the work of writers conventionally associated with and against these modes in hopes of querying, debating, and developing critical frames for understanding the relation between literature and the more generalized historical forces of the time. In hopes of partially disrupting both the periodizing impulses of literary historiography (that one might argue results from a certain realist conception of history) and the totalizing effects of genre criticism (that threatens to posit genres as internally coherent, clearly identifiable things), we will work through three thematic clusters—the first focused on questions of class, poverty, and affluence, the second on gender and sexuality, and the third on race and empire—that each touch down in moments ranging from the 1860’s to the early 1900’s. However, the conceit underwriting these clusters is that when we address one, we will inevitably be directed to the others, a redirection that I hope will pressure us to pluralize our notions of “realism" and “reality" produced by American social and cultural formations in the late 19th century and beyond.

We will likely read novels, stories, and excerpts from Charles Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, Steven Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Sui Sin Far, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Sutton Griggs, W.D. Howells, Henry James, Sarah Orne Jewett, Frank Norris, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and Zitkala-Sa.

Archival material will include excerpts from W.E.B. DuBois, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Plessy v. Ferguson, Theodore Roosevelt, F.J. Turner, Booker T. Washington, Jacob Riis, Thorstein Veblen, and we will likely look at criticism from Benedict Anderson, Gail Bederman, Jacqueline Goldsby, Amy Kaplan, Colleen Lye, and others.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

This course will be organized as a seminar, and students should be prepared to thoughtfully engage with the readings and each other on a daily basis.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

Assignments will include several short essays, a group project, and a final project of some length.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Travis J Sands
Date: 07/01/2009