Section 1: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 2:00-2:50 PM
Professor: Ben Bascom
In this course we will explore the major themes, tropes, and texts of American literature before 1865—a task that will lead us across vast terrains and into the controversies of multiple historical periods. We will begin with Christopher Columbus’s letters to the king of Spain about his colonial contact with indigenous peoples in the Americas and conclude with Abraham Lincoln’s “letter” to the fractured United States in “The Gettysburg Address.” While these bookends may seem to imply the inevitability of the United States as our recognizable nation, we will complicate that narrative by focusing on moments of possibility and rupture in the story we tell of Pilgrims landing and colonials revolting. Indeed, through framing our discussion around the concept of “multiple Americas,” we will highlight what the geographic space of “America” has meant to a variety of writers, actors, and characters. Through an attention to the formal aspects and negotiations of literary genre and author biography, we will delve into texts and narratives that convey histories of conquest and slavery, religious conversion and enlightenment self-making, and collective identification and popular protest that have come to constitute the canon of American literature.