HIS 389 • The American Romantics
7:00 PM-10:00 PM
This is an interdisciplinary research course dealing with ideas and emotions in mid-nineteenth century America that did not know that the Civil War was "inevitable." While the dreadfully complex and conspiratorial term "Romanticism" hovers always in the background, this course will focus on some interesting "romantics" and the larger issues and themes they represent.
Methodologically we will dip a bit into metaphysics, but much of the focus of the course will be on people whose work or personae were widely known beyond the confines of Concord and the Harvard Yard. Thus, one could conceivably term this "intellectual history from the bottom up" -- as the case may be. Some of the kinds of people and topics that we will be dealing with are: John James Audubon; William Bartram; Stephen Foster; the contrasting Utopians Stephen Pearl Andrews and Nathaniel "Blithedale" Hawthorne; Samuel Chamberlain; Jessie Benton and John Charles Frémont; the readable Herman Melville; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poems; Maria Monk; George Lippard; George Catlin; P. T. Barnum; Humbug; Josiah Priest; Martin J. Heade, Fred Church; John Howard Payne; William Walker; Horace Greeley; John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood; Louis Moreau Gottschalk; Joseph Smith; Cora and Ralph Blakelock; William Gilmore Simms; William Wells Brown; Edmund Burke; Yellow Bird; Elisha Kent Kane; Jane McManus; Victoria Woodhull; the romantic historians; magazines; folklore; the Ohio and the Mississippi before Mark Twain; explorers of South America; the South Seas and the Arctic; the melodramatists -- and just a tad of the ever popular Ralph Waldo Emerson. The main task of the course will be the writing of a 20-page or article-length term paper hopefully of publishable quality on the cultural aspects of the figures or his/her or their works or themes stemming from them. Such papers will begin with class reports on these "guests" or themes by individual students at the appropriate sessions. The Dictionary of American Biography may be a starting point, but is no substitute for discussing what is "romantic" about individuals, works, or themes. Topics and papers will be discussed in and out of class, with the emphasis upon producing quality work and the potential inherent in the course topic.