This course is designed to introduce students to the primary approaches of contemporary literary studies at the graduate level, and we will do so by exploring works from the early- and middle-nineteenth century periods with the following question in mind: How do literary, cultural, and national identities emerge and evolve in the nineteenth-century United States? The methodological “moves” we practice will include performing sustained and focused close readings, researching and incorporating detailed information about the object of study’s cultural moment, narrowing research questions and topics, finding and engaging with recent work in the field, and, as needed, identifying tools from specific theoretical schools to aid in our analyses. And of course, putting all of these together. Lots of work, but very doable, and we will practice and incorporate each element as we also explore the contemporary discipline of American Studies, which is focused on how cultural forms participate in the construction of national (and other) identities. We will read a lot of secondary scholarship, some theory, and primary work from Lydia Maria Child, Herman Melville, and Harriet Jacobs.
In this introduction to scholarship in the field of composition/rhetoric, we will study how literacy is shaped by a variety of culturally determining factors such as ethnicity, class, religion, and geographical location. We will look at examples of literacy experiences from historical texts, from second language learners, from immigrant American groups, and from relatively isolated American communities such as the Amish to see how the standards and values governing literacy shift through time, are re-established from group to group, and are negotiated from location to location. Even as these standards and definitions of literacy provide the basis for a shared community identity, they can also pose formidable obstacles to individuals trying to join a new community or trying to communicate between communities. By studying the cultural mechanisms of literacy across these comparative contexts, we can begin to identify the specific ways in which they determine community relations, shape the education of children, regulate access to knowledge and power, and become tools for progress or obstacles to social change. In this context, we will also consider the impact of technology in reshaping community boundaries and challenging cultural standards of literacy.
In this fiction workshop, students will dedicate the semester to writing a novella -- a fictional form whose length is somewhere between that of a short story and a novel. For our purposes, the target length will be roughly 60 pages. This is a writing workshop, so a significant portion of the course will be devoted to discussing one another’s excerpts as your novellas evolve. We will read published novellas (by Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, George Saunders, Clarice Lispector, Flannery O'Connor, Teju Cole, Sandra Cisneros, etc.) for analysis and inspiration. By the end of the semester, you will have written a complete draft of a novella and revised a significant section of it.