Instructor: John Getz
Institution: Xavier University (Cincinnati)
Course Title: American Renaissance: 1830-1865
The course considers the origin and validity of the term
"American Renaissance" and other issues relating to the formation
and interpretation of the literary canon of this period.
Literature of various genres is studied for its formal qualities
and its interaction with the history and culture of this period
and our own. Throughout the semester we examine the premises
that aesthetic concerns cannot be separated from political and
social issues and that as we read texts we remake them so that
our responses themselves become texts for us to study.
The first few weeks we study authors who focus directly on the
major historical issues of the time: westward expansion and
treatment of Indians and Hispanics already in those territories,
urbanization and industrialization of the Northeast (enhanced by
German and Irish immigration), the struggle for women's rights,
and, of course, slavery and abolitionism. The remainder of the
semester we study canonical authors in the context of these
voices and issues.
This is one of several upper-level courses that fulfill the
American literature requirement for junior and senior English
majors and secondary certification students in English. Usually
a few M.A. English or M.Ed. students also take it. Total
enrollment is about 35.
This is a 3-hour class that meets twice a week for a semester.
The format is mostly discussion.
Texts and Handout:
Lauter, et al., Heath Anthology of American Literature,
Melville, Moby-Dick (Bantam edition includes "Hawthorne and His
A selective timeline of history and popular culture I prepare by
decade from the 1830s through 1860s using The Timetables of
American History (ed. Laurence Urdang) and other sources
Besides the normal class discussions, we use in-class group work
and oral readings or summaries of reaction papers (sometimes
written in class but usually at home) to enhance the dialogue.
Reaction papers of one to two pages (if typed) are assigned every
other week, often with specific questions for response. A mid-
term exam (essay questions distributed ahead of time but answered
in class), three critical essays, and a final project are also
required. Graduate students do a longer research paper and lead
discussion for half a class period.
Readings, Pedagogy, and Annotations:
Note: All readings except Moby-Dick and "Hawthorne and His
Mosses" are in Heath.
UNIT 1: 1 or 2 class sessions
Readings for Unit 1:
*Introduction to Early Nineteenth Century,
*Songs and ballads, 2671-91:
Bryant, "To a Waterfowl"
"To Cole, the Painter, Departing for Europe"
Longfellow, "Psalm of Life"
Annotation for Unit 1:
Introduction to course--key points of historical background,
popular vs. elite culture, literary nationalism, and views of
nature by Hudson River painters and writers
Writing & Pedagogy for Unit 1: Lecture/discussion; no writing
UNIT 2: 2 class sessions
Readings for Unit 2:
* Cooper, from Pioneers and Last of the
*Humor of the Old Southwest, 1427-43
*Kirkland, from A New Home--Who'll Follow?
*Native American tales and legends, 1214-24
*Speech of Chief Seattle
*Aztec and Inuit poetry, 2663-71
*Tales from Hispanic Southwest, 1228-38
*Vallejo, from Recuerdos
Annotation for Unit 2:
This unit focuses on westward expansion and frontier life. We
compare and contrast the perspectives of these writers by region,
gender, class, culture, and whether they are newcomers or
established in their regions.
Writing and pedagogy for Unit 2: Discussion and reaction paper,
possibly group work.
UNIT 3: 4 or 5 class sessions
Readings for Unit 3:
*Writers on slavery and abolition, 1825-71 and 1792-95
(Next time I'll be more selective from these and give more time
to Douglass, Stowe, and Jacobs)
*Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
*"What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"
*Stowe, from Uncle Tom's Cabin and other selections, 2307-2377
*Jacobs, from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Annotation for Unit 3:
This unit focuses on slavery and abolition, showing the variety
of responses and strategies within the anti-slavery movement.
Because of race and gender, Douglass, Stowe, and Jacobs provide
comparisons and especially contrasts in material covered, style,
narrative technique, sense of audience, and literary traditions
within which they write.
Writing and pedagogy for Unit 3: Class discussion
4-page critical essay: Analyze key differences between two of
these: Douglass's Narrative, Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and
Jacobs's Incidents in the Life. In your essay explain whether
the differences you discuss strengthen or weaken the works. You
are encouraged to use other anti-slavery works on the reading
list as reference points or perspectives for your contrast.
In what turns out to be an essay question on the mid-term
students are asked in class to think about which rendering of the
slave experience and which strategy for dealing with slavery
would be most persuasive to them if they had lived in the years
before the Civil War. Different responses to this question
provide material for class discussion including group work.
UNIT 4: 2 class sessions
Readings for Unit 4:
*Whitman, "To a Locomotive in Winter"
*Grimke, from Letters on the Equality of the Sexes
*Stanton, from Eighty Years and More
*"Declaration of Sentiments"
*Melville, "Paradise of Bachelors, and Tartarus of Maids"
*Stowe, from The Minister's Wooing
*"Sojourner Truth, the Lybian Sybil"
Annotation for Unit 4:
This unit shows the relation between two important developments:
the industrialization of the Northeast and the rise of the
women's movement. Students are also encouraged to make
connections between the women's and abolitionist movements.
Questions of style and audience and the issue of popular vs.
elite culture are important in discussing the readings for this
unit as they were for Unit 3.
Writing and pedagogy for Unit 4: In either a reaction paper or
an essay question on the mid-term students are asked to decide
which rendering of women's experience and which strategies for
dealing with injustice toward women would be most persuasive to
them if they had lived in the years before the Civil War.
Different responses to this question provide material for class
UNIT 5: 4 or 5 class sessions
Readings for Unit 5:
*"The American Scholar"
*Fuller, 1580-1637, especially from Woman in the Nineteenth
*Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government"
*"A Plea for Captain John Brown"
Annotation for Unit 5:
This unit deals with Transcendentalism. We study Emerson's
articulation of Transcendentalist philosophy and literary theory
and in Thoreau and Fuller the Transcendentalists' attempt to
address the issues of slavery and the oppression of women.
Comparisons and contrasts are made in the style and thought of
these three writers.
Writing and Pedagogy for Unit 5: Critical essay of four pages:
Choose two of the following authors, and show how a work in our
text by one author sheds light on two works in our text by the
other: Emerson, Fuller, Thoreau, Poe. You might highlight
comparisons, contrasts, or both. Take note of the dates these
authors' works were written and published, and use these dates in
UNIT 6: 2 class sessions
Readings for Unit 6:
*Poe, Review of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales
*"MS. Found in a Bottle"
*"Fall of the House of Usher"
*"Cask of Amontillado"
*"Philosophy of Composition"
Annotations for Unit 6:
This unit studies Poe. We view him as a writer of romance,
specifically the Gothic, and consider his work in relation to the
Transcendentalists as well as later Gothic and detective authors
students have read, including Arthur Conan Doyle and Stephen
King, and in light of deconstructive theory destabilizing the
meaning of texts. We also examine his portrayal of women in
light of our reading of women writers earlier in the semester and
try to predict their responses to his work.
Writing & Pedagogy for Unit 6: Group work and reaction paper on
above topics. See also essay topic for Unit 5.
UNIT 7: 6 class sessions
Readings for Unit 7:
*Hawthorne, Scarlet Letter
*Melville, "Hawthorne and His Mosses" (in Bantam Moby-Dick)
Annotations for Unit 7:
This unit compares and contrasts Hawthorne and Melville as
writers of the American romance. We also study their responses
to the issues of women's rights and slavery, especially through
Hawthorne's portrayal of Hester and Melville's portrayal of
Queequeg and various black characters. We also note the absence
of women characters and search for images of the feminine in
Moby-Dick and reflect on student responses to both books,
especially if they have read Scarlet Letter before. Attention
is, of course, paid to the whaling chapters and humor of Moby-
Dick, which students often overlook. The whaling footage from
the silent film Down to the Sea in Ships (on video) gives
students an idea of what whaling was like.
Writing & Pedagogy for Unit 7: Choose either Scarlet Letter or
Moby-Dick for a paper that will have three sections:
a. Write a reaction to some continuing aspect of the book (e.g.,
a conflict, character, image, theme, not restricted to one or two
chapters or incidents). Avoid plot summary. The more focus this
section has, the better your paper is likely to be. (3 pages.)
b. Read a chapter from a critical book or article on your novel
that deals with the topic you wrote about in a. The article or
chapter must have been written in the last 10 years and be at
least 8 pages long. React to this article. Don't summarize;
critique/evaluate it. If you've studied literary theory, use
your knowledge to categorize the critic's approach. (3 pages.)
Attach a photocopy of the article or chapter to your paper.
c. Present your current view of the topic you identified in a.,
now that you have reflected on it for some time and read what a
critic said about it. Has your view of the topic changed? What
have you learned about the topic and/or literary criticism in
general? (3 pages.)
UNIT 8: 4 class sessions
Readings for Unit 8:
*Whitman, 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass
*"Song of Myself"
*"Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" from Drum-Taps, 2804-10
*"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"
*Dickinson, 2838-2921 (Students choose poems we emphasize.)
Annotations to Unit 8:
This unit contrasts Whitman's open form with Dickinson's closed
form and briefly surveys the poetic traditions each contributed
to. Whitman's egalitarian impulse in form and theme is also
related to abolitionism and Transcendentalism, inviting
comparisons/contrasts with Emerson. We also look at Dickinson's
relation to Emerson and her response to religious and especially
women's issues we have seen throughout the semester. We study
both poets' renderings of same-sex desires and relationships.
Writing & Pedagogy for Unit 8: Group work and class discussion
of reaction papers on one or more of the above topics.
UNIT 9: Final exam period
Writing & Pedagogy for Final Project (takes the place of a final
Identify and justify your selections of:
1. One noncanonical author or text on our syllabus that should be
included in future versions of this course.
2. One canonical author or text on our syllabus that should be
included in future versions of this course.
3. One canonical author or text on our syllabus that could be
omitted to make room for others.
If you can't justify any author or text for one of the
categories, add a second author or text to one of the others and
In your justifications be explicit about your criteria for
inclusion and exclusion.
This paper should be about 5 pages long and is due at the
beginning of the final exam period. For that day you should also
prepare a five-minute summary of this paper for presentation to
your small group. During the exam period the groups will collect
and summarize the findings of their members, and we'll pool the
reports of the groups to see where the class stands and what we
can conclude from these results.
Attendance and active participation during the final exam period
This page was prepared by Audrey Mickahail at the Center for Electronic Projects in American Culture Studies (CEPACS), housed at Georgetown University, under the direction of Randy Bass, Department of English.
Randy Bass, Director