First-Year Studies: Literature, Culture, and Politics in US History, 1840s-2000s


This course is premised on a series of assumptions: First, that the public words and stories that Americans choose to tell reflect ideas, concerns, presumptions, and intentions about their time period and that they do, intentionally and unintentionally, “political work” in revealing the world in the way that they shore up, modify, or work to change power structures. Second, that you, the reader, have some sense of context for these stories (or that you will work to acquire one) and, hence, have some sense of how they reflect the material world that they seek to change. Novels, stories, memoirs, and critical essays all derive from a single vantage point and need to be understood as one voice in a larger conversation coming from a particular time and a particular place. Third, that these readings are largely primary sources (always paired with a secondary source chapter, article, or introduction) and that this pairing presumes a desire on your part to grapple with the material of this moment yourselves and to write history as well as read it. Themes of particular significance will include the construction of national identity, class consciousness, the experience and meaning of immigration, slavery (and particularly race), and the political significance of gender and sexuality. In the fall, authors will include the classics and the merely popular; for example, Margaret Fuller, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Kate Chopin, W.E.B. Dubois, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, along with Fanny Fern, Louisa May Alcott, and Horatio Alger, among others. In the spring, we will take up authors such as Zora Neal Hurston, Carson McCullers, Ralph Ellison, J.D. Salinger, Mary McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros, Maxine Hong Kingston, Dorothy Allison, Gloria Naylor, Louise Erdrich, and Thomas Pynchon. Conference projects in the fall will focus on history and literature to 1930; in the spring, on history and literature up to just yesterday.