Readings in 19th Century American Literature and Culture (Post 1800)

L632 — Spring 2022

Jonathan Elmer
Days and Times
9:45 – 11:00a MW (4 CR.)
Course Description

Topic: Worlds Elsewhere

In the nineteenth century, the U.S. was itself still, for many, a “world elsewhere”: alien and alienating for some, but for others attractive, a promise of a new beginning. To those born within the borders of the U.S., the country was no much less alien and alienating—ceaselessly changing its borders, torn apart by a civil war that changed everything (and nothing), seized by technological developments and spiritual quests that suggested the “annihilation of space and time.”

This class will survey writing in the nineteenth century in the U.S. by exploring the many “worlds elsewhere” fabricated, fantasized, and inhabited by writers both within the state, and those excluded from it. Polar expeditions, spirit communications, images of life on the moon, utopias and dystopias in both the future and the past, prophetic visions, narratives of liberation and escape, abolition and emancipation, technological fantasies involving photography, telegraphy, and phonography—these are a few of the expressions of “worlds elsewhere” we’ll look at.

We’ll read texts by Black Hawk, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, Harriet Jacobs, Martin Delany, Joseph Smith, Mark Twain, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Nat Turner, Edward Bellamy, Pauline Hopkins, Thomas Alva Edison, and Walt Whitman. We will also read a fair amount of secondary criticism, some of this moment, so of it from the past.