Topics in American Studies 2: American Non-Fiction Writing, 1580-1880

Course title: Topics in American Studies 2: American Non-Fiction Writing, 1580-1880
Prof. Douglas Ambrose (Fulbright Scholar)

ECTS credits: 6
Status: Elective
Language: English
Semester: 8th
Enrolment requirements: enrolment in the 8th semester

COURSE PURPOSE: This course provides an introduction to American history through various forms of non-fiction writing.  Beginning with sixteenth-century English accounts of the New World, we will explore the development of certain themes and genres that came to characterize American non-fiction, including the jeremiad, the captivity narrative, social and physical mobility, “manifest destiny” and providentialism, the slave narrative, nature writing, and the promise of “the west.”  We will follow a chronological narrative through American history, recognizing throughout the political and social contexts of the texts while paying close attention to the internal development of the genres to which they belong. 

COURSE STRUCTURE:  Students must complete the readings for the week prior to our Monday meetings.  Each Monday meeting will begin with a brief quiz on that week’s materials.  Each student must bring the week’s readings to class each week.  Although I will occasionally lecture in order to situate the texts, class discussion of the readings will constitute the bulk of our meetings.  A successful class requires the participation of all students.  Attendance, therefore, counts.  Students may miss two classes without penalty. 

COURSE REQUIREMENTS:  In addition to regular attendance, preparation, and participation, students will write four short papers (500-750 words each) and one longer paper (2500 words).  Beginning with Week 2 and continuing for every subsequent week through week 14, I will provide a question at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting.  Students will pick four of these questions to write on.  Papers are always due the following Monday.  I will not accept any late papers, so choose wisely.  For the final paper, the student will choose one of the genres we will focus on, read at least two secondary sources on and two additional primary sources from that genre, and write a paper that examines the historical and literary meanings of those texts. Final papers are due not later than 16:00 on 14 June.

Course schedule:
Week 1: Envisioning America.  Read Thomas Harriot, A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588/1590).
Week 2: Planting a “New England.” John Cotton, “God’s Promise to His Plantation” (1630); John Winthrop, “Model of Christian Charity” (1630).
Week 3: Exhorting America: The Jeremiad and its Meanings.  Read Samuel Danforth, New England’s Errand into the Wilderness (1670); Increase Mather, An Exhortation To the Inhabitants of New England (1676).
Week 4: Captivity, Identity, and Redemption.  Read Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682).
Week 5: The Beginnings of “American” History.  Read Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (1702); Robert Beverly, The History and Present State of Virginia (1705).
Week 6: Becoming American.  Read Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography (1791).
Week 7: The Transformation of Political Discourse.  Read Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776); Samuel Sherwood, “The Church’s Flight into the Wilderness” (1776).
Week 8: Explaining America. Hector St. John de Crevecour, Letters From an American Farmer (1782): Read “Advertisement and Dedication,” Letter I, Letter III, and Letter IX; Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1787): Read “Front Matter,” Query 8, Query 11, Query 14, and Query 17.
Week 9: Exploring America.  For William Bartram, Travels (1791), read Part IV, Chapters  I-VI; For Lewis and Clark, Journals (1814), read July 30, 1804; August 25, 1804; September 24 & 25, 1804; October 8, 9, 10, 11, & 12, 1804; October 27, 1804; October 29, 1804; October 31, 1804; November 4, 1804.
Week 10: Creating an American Identity.  Read Noah Webster, “On the Education of Youth in America” (1788); Fisher Ames, “American Literature” (1803), on Omega.
Week 11: American Destiny.  Read Lyman Beecher, A Plea for the West (1832); John L. O’Sullivan, “The Great Nation of Futurity” (1839).
Week 12: The Beginnings of African American Political Writing. Read David Walker, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World.
Week 13: Narrating American Slavery and American Freedom. Read William Wells Brown, Narrative of William Wells Brown, A Fugitive Slave (1847); Josiah Henson, The Life of Josiah Henson . . . (1849).
Week 14: The “Other America”: The South. Read James Henley Thornwell, “The Christian Doctrine of Slavery” (1850); Louisa McCord, “Woman and Her Needs” (1852); George Fitzhugh, “Southern Thought” (1857), on Omega.
Week 15: A New Birth: Postbellum America. Read Lincoln, “Second Inaugural Address” (1865); Horace Bushnell, “Our Obligations to the Dead” (1865) on Omega; Frederick Douglass, “What the Black Man Wants” (1865); and “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln” (1876)