Course Description

English 3350:  American Literature from 1620 to 1865

Professor Dorothy Baker

"What is an American?" asks one early author, and we continue to pose this question.  The earliest colonial settlers came to this continent with a design for their life in the new world, but they were unprepared for the ways in which the new world would change them.  This course will interrogate the identity of the early colonists and later generations through the literature that expresses the evolution of their ideals, their fears, their relationship with their fellow man and woman, their understanding of their God, and their project of nation-building.  In the fledgling, faltering and sometimes failed experiment of democracy, our national identity and our national culture were also shaped by minority voices; we will read the literature of Native Americans, African American men and women, and European American women.  The identity of a people is revealed by both its high culture and its popular culture; this is true today, and it was also true in earlier society.  So, to help us to answer our question, "What is an American?" we will read not only the canonical literature of the period, but also Puritan popular culture, the eighteenth-century seduction novel that was our first "best seller," nineteenth-century literature of political dissent, the poems that everyone recited and those that were called "disgraceful."  We will consider the larger cultural context for the literature of this period—American painting, magazine illustrations, music, sermons, the book covers that "market" literature, furniture, and fashions.