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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2007

E 395M • Theories of American Literature: America in the World

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
35020 MW
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
PAR 305

Course Description

Recent theory tells us that nations are imaginary, that culture is not contained by national borders, and that our contemporary world (and thus our frame of reference for understanding the past) is globalizing. Such insights have inspired and troubled literary scholars who find themselves studying an academic field still institutionally and conceptually organized by national borders. Americanists are responding to this problem by seeking out alternative cultural spheres of literary influence and reference, and this class will explore some of these efforts. We will identify new models for a transnational American literature, focusing especially on those that have been called variously hemispheric American Studies, Inter-American studies, or New World Studies. In studying these models, we'll consider the justifications, challenges, blind spots and insights that they offer.

Our studies will be confined to the period between the Revolutionary era and World War I, partly because the literature of this era is the most emphatically national and the most difficult to conceptualize globally. Like an hourglass, the shape of the field of American literary history tends to narrow at its center. While the colonial era invites comparative study of competing European and Amerindian representations crisscrossing a geographic space not then envisioned through national borders, and while contemporary literature in the era of transnationalism requires cultural models that account for new circuits of culture and power crossing national borders, the culture of the nineteenth-century United States often still appears to be a scene of domestic isolation and inwardly absorbed conflict. Thus efforts to globalize studies of this era are the most fraught and arguably the most necessary to any wide-scale redefinition of the field.


The course will begin with readings in U.S. literary criticism and theory calling for a more transnational American literature. After this introductory segment, we study a number of emerging models for hemispheric American studies that have responded to such calls. These models will include the comparative study of national romances; studies of shared and interconnected New World revolutionary discourse; the literature of a "plantation America" extending south into the Caribbean from the Southeastern United States; and borderland studies. Within each of these units, we will read and discuss a set of literary works (mostly fiction) in light of the critical models or theories presented. A preliminary list of literary texts includes Félix Varela Xicoténcatl, Lew Wallace The Fair God, Ignacio Manuel Altamirano El Zarco, James Fenimore Cooper The Last of the Mohicans, Juan Manzano Autobiography of a Slave, Martin Delany Blake; or, The Huts of America, Marða Amparo Ruiz de Burton Who Would Have Thought It, Victor Sejour "Le Mulatre" Jose Marti "Our America," and short stories by Gertrude Atherton, Jack London, and Steven Crane. Secondary readings include critical and theoretical works by Benedict Anderson, Lawrence Buell, Anna Brickhouse, Paul Giles, Amy Kaplan, Rodrigo Lazo, José E. Limïn, Paul Lyons, John Muthyala, Carolyn Porter, Janice Radway, Doris Sommer, Gustavo Pérez Firmat, Kirsten Silva Gruesz, William Spengemann, Shelley Streeby, and Eric Wertheimer.


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