Seminar in 19th Century American Literature: American Women's Poetry Before 1900

American Women's Poetry Before 1900
English 8310
Alexandra Socarides
Course Description

Although now rarely studied at either the undergraduate or graduate levels, the centuries of American women’s poetry that preceded Modernism reveal a rich and diverse array of poetry that, with the exception of Emily Dickinson’s, is almost entirely invisible today. When read closely, this poetic field raises issues about gender, race, power, religion, colonialism, slavery, and sentimentality in ways that are both surprising and vexed, in ways that can greatly complicate our understanding of the history of American women’s poetry. In this seminar we will ask: What were the foundations of American women’s poetry? How did early American readers understand women’s poetry and its place in their world? Why has literary history largely sidelined the complexity of this field? How can knowledge of these foundations affect the way we understand the forms and purposes of American women’s poetry today? While we will consider the work of individual poets (Bradstreet, Wheatley, Plato, Schoolcraft, Sigourney, Osgood, Oakes Smith, Harper, Piatt, Lazarus, and Dickinson, among others), we will also read widely across genres, occasions, venues, and media, encountering poets whose names and identities have not been preserved by literary history. Given that the driving questions of this course will be how and why literary history has worked the way it has in relation to American women’s poetry, students will find the critical methods of this course useful to their study of any period. Written work will include weekly response papers (close readings as well as short research or archival investigations); a presentation with annotated bibliography;and, depending on the student’s interests/course of study, either 2 conference-length papers or one article-length paper written in 2 parts.