Survey of American Literature: Beginnings to 1865 - Writing Intensive (online)

Beginnings to 1865
ENGL 3300
Aliki Barnstone
Course Description

This writing-intensive survey of American Literature from the beginnings to 1865 takes into account recent events, including the pandemic and Black Lives Matter Activism sparked by murder of George Floyd. Current events have their historical antecedents and I have structured the readings and writings in this course to make them relevant to now.

I have assigned canonical texts—by authors such as Dickinson, Douglass, Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Stowe, Thoreau, and Whitman—and “recovered texts”—by authors such Fanny Fern, Angelina Grimke, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Samuel Occum, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney—that I hope will help us make intersectional connections between pathology and the various forms of bigotry. We will look into the ways in which BIPOC / women writers and artists are pathologized and how that pathologizing becomes a tool for othering groups of people whether on the basis of gender, race, or creed, for instilling the belief that there is something wrong with them. Additionally, systems of oppression impose pathologies on people they subjugate. Why did slaveholders whip their slaves, which caused sometimes fatal infections and crippling injuries? Why does the law not punish beating a girlfriend or wife with the same severity as assaulting a stranger? Why are these crimes rarely punished? Why is it only recently that a man beating his wife was deemed a crime at all?

We will explore writers in the contexts of major social, political, philosophical, theological movements and events, such as the Salem Witch Trials, the Constitutional Convention, and Transcendentalism. We’ll ask questions about the strictures against women's and slave’s education and writing, self-determination and agency, comparing and contrasting, for example the work of the Puritan fathers and the founding of fathers with the poetry of Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley, the most significant American poets of the 17th and 18th centuries, respectively.

Given the scope and quantity of these works the focus of the course is on reading, and the writing assignments are designed to help students synthesize the material and read more closely and carefully. Writing will consist of a journal, fun writing games, seven 2-page reading response papers, four of which will be revised. The response paper assignments are designed to be enjoyable and the course itself will provide ample opportunities for creativity.