Early American Confessions (LIT2251.01)

Benjamin Anastas

From the Puritans’ first unpromising glimpse aboard the Mayflower of this “hideous & desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men,” America has inspired, even required, bold new feats of language and the imagination to capture it in literature. This course will survey the beginnings of the American literary tradition, from the oral culture of the Native people who inhabited the continent first, to the early forms of writing (histories, tracts, sermons) that later gave rise to new literary forms. From there, we will survey the poetry of Anne Bradstreet and Phyllis Wheatley; enter into bondage with Mary Rowlandson through the salacious 17th and 18th Century genre of the captivity narrative; revisit the Salem Witch Trials and their dour publicist, Cotton Mather; wrangle with the inheritance of unlikely contemporaries Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards. As American culture first gains its footing, we will explore how the “Puritanic gloom” continued to haunt writers from Emerson to Melville and Hawthorne to Poe—as did the institution of slavery, which, according to Melville’s Captain Delano in “Benito Cereno,” “breeds ugly passions in man.”


Learning Outcomes:
-To gain confidence reading primary and literary texts from different historical periods;
-To interpret these texts using a range of critical tools;
-To build a foundation of knowledge in American literary traditions that will allow for deeper study in the field;
-To communicate ideas clearly in both discussion and in writing;
-To collaborate with peers on goal-oriented projects.


Delivery Method: Hybrid
Course Level: 2000-level
Credits: 4
M/Th 10:00AM - 11:50AM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 20
Course Frequency: Every 2-3 years

Categories: Literature , Hybrid , All courses
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