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Literature, Culture, and Politics in US History


This course is premised on a series of assumptions: First, that the public words and stories that Americans choose to tell have meaning; that they reflect ideas, concerns, presumptions, and intentions about their time period; that they do, intentionally and unintentionally, "political work” in revealing the world in the way that they do (i.e., that they work to reveal, shore up, modify, or change the power structure in some way). Second, this course assumes that you, the reader, have some sense of the backdrop to 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, a positionality, and need to be understood as one voice in a larger conversation coming from a particular time and a particular place. Third, these readings are largely primary sources that are always paired with a secondary source chapter, article, or introduction. This pairing presumes a desire on your part to grapple with the material of this moment yourselves to write history, as well as to read it. Themes of particular significance will include the constructing of national identity, class and class consciousness, the experience and meaning of immigration, slavery and particularly race, and the political significance of gender and sexuality.