Special Topics in Literary Study and Theory (Post-1800)

L680 — Fall 2019

Christoph Irmscher
Days and Times
2:30p - 3:45p MW (4 CR)
Course Description

*This course fulfills one course of the two-course research skill for English Ph.D. students.

TOPIC: Nineteenth Century American Poetry at the Lilly

This seminar will explore the rich array of voices that constitutes nineteenth-century American poetry, from William Cullen Bryant, Lydia Sigourney, and Margaret Fuller to Walt Whitman, James Whitcomb Riley, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. This class meets at the Lilly Library, which means that the emphasis of our work with this semester will be on the ways in which primary material (manuscripts, first editions, objects in the collections of the Lilly) can help us better understand and recover the practice of writing and reading poetry in the 1800s as well as  the development of American print culture. A subsidiary focus will be on the ways in which archival work can be made fruitful for our teaching. The class will meet at the Lilly Library, which has world-class resources in this field (including three first editions of Leaves of Grass; one of the three extant pristine copies of Edgar Allan Poe’s first book of poems; the papers of Sarah Helen Whitman; a complete series of first editions of Dunbar—not to mention Poe’s hair!).  Some of the topics and skills to be covered might include the “archeology” of literary texts (i. e., all that comes before the “fair copy” of a manuscript, such as drafts, notebooks, reading notes, and letters); exercises in deciphering handwriting; principles and types of textual transcription;  prepublication documents (annotated and fair copies); the nature of the literary archive or collection; the use of finding aids in libraries; the role of anthologies and periodicals in the dissemination of poetry; and so forth.

Course requirements: Each participant will complete a major project involving original research, in the form of either a 20-25-page essay that can be submitted to a journal or a digital artifact. I will also ask each participant to prepare a 10-minute presentation on an artifact at the Lilly Library and to design a syllabus or unit of a course that could be taught at the college level.  Texts to be acquired include the college edition of American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century (Library of America) and Michael Moon’s edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (Norton).  For questions, please contact me at cirmsche@indiana.edu or 443-622-3277.


Interested in this course?

The full details of this course are available on the Office of the Registrar website.

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