American literature and culture 2: American Non-Fiction Writing, 1580-1880

Course title: American literature and culture 2: American Non-Fiction Writing, 1580-1880
Instructor: Prof. Douglas Ambrose
ECTS credits: 6
Language: English
4th or 6th semester

Status: elective
Enrolment requirements: completed Introduction to English literature, enrolment in the 4th or 6th 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.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: In addition to regular attendance, preparation, and participation, students will write three short papers (500-750 words each) and take a midterm and final exam.  Beginning with Week 2 and continuing for every subsequent week through week 15, I will provide a question at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting.  Students will pick three of these questions to write on.  Papers are always due the following Monday.  I will not accept any late papers, so choose wisely.  The midterm exam will take place on either 15 or 16 April.  The final exam will take place on either 10 or 11 June.

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.” Read 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. Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682).
Week 5: Becoming American.  Read Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography (1791).
Week 6: The Transformation of Political Discourse. Read Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776); Samuel Sherwood, “The Church’s Flight into the Wilderness” (1776).
Week 7: Midterm exam.
Week 8: Explaining America. Read 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. William Bartram, Travels (1791). Read Part IV, Chapters  I-VI; 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: American Destiny. Read Lyman Beecher, A Plea for the West (1832); and John L. O’Sullivan, “The Great Nation of Futurity” (1839).
Week 11: The Beginnings of African American Political Writing.  Read David Walker, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829).
Week 12: 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 13: 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 14: 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).
Week 15: Final Exam.