Nineteenth Century American Literature and Culture – Fall 2017

This is the course page for Nineteenth Century American Literature and Culture. Below are the assignments and reading lists that informed students’ posts.

Troubling Texts: Interpreting American Slave Narratives

Within American literature and culture, “slave narratives” represent a specific genre. As professor of English William L. Andrews argues, slave narratives:

[G]ive voice to generations of black people who, despite being written off by white southern literature, still found a way to bequeath a literary legacy of enormous collective significance to the South and the United States. Expected to concentrate primarily on eye-witness accounts of slavery, many slave narrators become I-witnesses as well, revealing their struggles, sorrows, aspirations, and triumphs in compellingly personal story-telling.

While it is essential to acknowledge problems with how slave narratives were created and documented – in respect to questions of authorship, intended audience, didacticism, and reliability – they still represent crucial records that allow us to analyze what the lives of enslaved persons were like, from their perspective.

 In this assignment, students were asked to analyze a slave narrative or series of narratives from the University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South “North American Slave Narratives” project, in order to explain:

  • What your source (or sources) reveals about the cultural values that individuals attached to slavery, freedom, and related topics
  • How the narrative structure of the source (or sources), and its tone, imagery, style, and focus, serve the purpose of the genre

Class Readings and Resources:

  • Jill Lepore, “A Nue Merrykin Dikshunary,” in The Story of America:
    Essays on Origins
    (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 111-129
  • Andrew Cockburn, “Washington is Burning,” Harper’s Magazine, Sept. 2014
  • Excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume 1 (1831)
  • Margaret Hofer, “Cross-Stitched History,Common-Place 4, no. 4 (July 2004),
  • Mary Cathryn Cain, “Race, Republicanism, and Domestic Service in the Antebellum United States,” Left History2 (2007): 64–83.
  • Linda K. Kerber, Nancy F. Cott, Robert Gross, Lynn Hunt, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg and Christine M. Stansell, “Beyond Roles, Beyond Spheres: Thinking about Gender in the Early Republic,” The William and Mary Quarterly 46, no. 3 (1989): 565-585.
  • Charles Finney, “What a Revival of a Religion Is” (1835)
  • Jon Butler, “Jack-in-the-Box Faith: The Religion Problem in Modern American History,” Journal of American History 90, no. 4 (2004): 1357–1378
  • American Antiquarian Society and New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, “Revisiting Rebellion: Nat Turner in the American Imagination,” online exhibition.
  • Eric Lott, “Blackface and Blackness: The Minstrel Show in American Culture,” from Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993)
  • Walter Johnson, “Turning People into Products,” in Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001)


Explorations in Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Painting

The nineteenth century saw American authors trying to establish a voice that would capture the culture of what was still a new nation. Today, scholars refer to a body of literature (or canon) in which these efforts can be traced and analyzed.

 In this assignment, your task is to select a story or poem that the Norton Anthology of American Literature has identified as a key text from the period of 1820 to 1914.

Once you have selected a text, you will perform a deep dive into its significance and meaning. At the core of your analysis should be the following questions:

How does this text help us understand an emergent American cultural voice? What makes this text “American” in its style, focus, and content?

Your post should also include an image that pairs with the text you are analyzing, and the major themes you want to address. Be creative here. If the text you have chosen addresses themes having to do with gender, for example, you might select a work of art that is likewise grappling with masculinity and femininity. If your focus is on transcendentalism and nature there are myriad paintings that capture the “romanticism” of the American landscape. And so on…


Smithsonian American Art Museum – Museum of Art –