Deborah A Kimmey
Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.
FOR WINTER 2008: This course offers an introduction to the study of U.S. literature and culture. It takes as its premise that defining "American" literature or determining what gets included in an "American" canon is a tenuous, fraught enterprise. Starting with the problem of a nationalist literature, we will gloss the history of canon debates and the political stakes at work in which texts get taught within classrooms, collected in anthologies, and cited in research. We will then carry this over to literature of the "long nineteenth century" as one productive site for thinking through nationalist claims to literary or cultural representation and, consequently, history. The particular texts we will read trace two nineteenth-century archives: (1) the expansion of U.S. state territory through the violent conquest, annexation, and expropriation of Native-Americans and Spanish-Americans, and (2) the "peculiar institution" of slavery and the contradictions embedded within what one historian has called "the traffic in human souls." Throughout the quarter, our objective will be to not only realign our conceptions of U.S. literature, but also to radically revise our ways of reading. Thus, this course not only asks: what constitutes "American" literature? It also poses the questions: How has "American" literature been read? And how does expanding "American" literature to more diverse cultures within the U.S. call for new reading practices, even for perennially-taught texts of American literature?
Our primary texts may include: Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton's The Squatter and the Don, Lydia Maria Child's Hobomok, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of Seven Gables, Herman Melville's Benito Cereno, Frederick Douglass's The Heroic Slave, and Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative. Course reserves will be made available of secondary/critical essays and literary/historical texts.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Class discussion and some lecturing for historic background and framing. Evaluation will be based upon participation, weekly quizzes, group presentations, a midterm and a final exam/paper.
Class assignments and grading