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American Literature before 1900

What is an American?
J. Hector St. Jean de Crèvecoeur

“What is an American?” J. Hector St. Jean de Crèvecoeur famously asked during the Revolutionary War. His question has continued to resonate and to take on new meanings for writers, readers, scholars, and students. What was “American” literature prior to the revolutionary formation of the United States? How did writers in the early years of the United States conceive of their literary work as part of a process of national self-definition? What compelled the imaginations of both readers and authors a century after the nation’s formation? How did immigrants experience and shape the New World? How did slavery happen and how did it end? What was the relationship between humans and the natural environment? In what ways is “America” larger than the United States? How did writers from divergent backgrounds find–or struggle to create–a place in the literary world? What were the popular literatures of early America and what made them popular?

The American Literature before 1900 cluster provides English majors the opportunity to explore an exceptional variety of literary forms and authorial voices from the moment of European contact with the New World through the early twentieth century. The narratives, poems, histories, sermons, novels, nature writing, plays, comedies, essays, epics, short stories, speeches, polemics, and songs that constitute American literature before 1900 were created by writers from a wide range of locations and critical positions. In their lively and often surprising works, they provide us with a way to think about how American literature–and America itself–is always evolving and endlessly provocative.

Possible courses for a pre-1900 cluster:

  • ENGL 231: American Literature to 1865
  • ENGL 232: American Literature from 1865
  • ENGL 235: African-American Oral Folk Tradition
  • ENGL 301M: Honors Seminar in English: Literature Before 1800
  • ENGL 302M: Honors Seminar in English: Literature After 1800
  • ENGL 303M: Honors Seminar in English: American Literature & Culture
  • ENGL 427: Topics in Jewish American Literature
  • ENGL 429: New Media and Literature
  • ENGL 430: The American Renaissance
  • ENGL 431: Black American Writers
  • ENGL 432: The American Novel to 1900
  • ENGL 434: Topics in American Literature
  • ENGL 435: The American Short Story
  • ENGL 437: The Poet in America
  • ENGL 438: American Drama
  • ENGL 439: American Nonfiction Prose
  • ENGL 461: The Vernacular Roots of African American Literature
  • ENGL 463: African American Autobiography
  • ENGL 466: African American Novel I
  • ENGL 468: African American Poetry
  • ENGL 469: Slavery and the Literary Imagination
  • ENGL 481: Literary Theory: Historical Perspectives
  • ENGL 492: American Women Writers
  • ENGL 493: The Folktale in American Literature

Other courses that could have an American component, depending on how they are taught:

  • ENGL 227: Introduction to Culture and Sexuality
  • ENGL 331: Canons and Critics
  • ENGL 312: Globality and Literature
  • ENGL 404: Mapping Identities, Difference, and Place
  • ENGL 401: Studies in Genre
  • ENGL 428: Asian American Literatures