This course examines how narrative helped Americans embrace a national liberal consensus in the 19th century based not on the republican ideal of rational debate, but shared sentiments of the kind embodied by mass reading culture. Beginning with Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and Hannah Foster’s novel, The Coquette, we will identify how reading helped Americans imagine and organize themselves as a democratic society. Readings by Benedict Anderson, Jürgen Habermas, and Richard Kearney provide the theoretical basis for discussion. In the second part of the course, we will read a variety of 19th-century narratives including stories, novels, and memoirs.
Readings can be downloaded from my website at
Follow the links to Teaching/Readings. Also download and print the map of the United States.
For those who prefer to purchase the larger readings in book form, I suggest the following editions:
Harriet Beecher Stowe: Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Norton)
Hannah Foster: The Coquette (Penguin Classic)
Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiography (Norton)
Benedict Anderson: Imagined Communities (Verso)
Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass & Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Ed. Kwame Anthony Appiah (Modern Library)
The focus will be on interpreting the primary readings. But we will assume some knowledge of American history in the early national period, social history in particular. I will provide some of this. For those interested in further reading the following general accounts are useful.
Malcolm Bradbury and Howard Temperley, Introduction to American Studies
Stephanie Coontz, The Social Origins of Private Life, Ch. 4, 5, & 6 (Verso, 1988)
Carl Kaestle, “The History of Readers,” Ch. 2 of Literacy in the United States (Hill & Wang, 1983)
Independence Day; de Crevecoeur: “What is an American?”; Thomas Jefferson: Declaration of Independence; John Winthrop: “Model of Christian Charity”
Benedict Anderson: Imagined Communities Chapters 1-3; Jürgen Habermas: “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article” (Suggested: Immanuel Kant: “What is Enlightenment?”; Wendell Phillips “Public Opinion”)
Richard Kearney: “National Narratives: Rome, Britain, America”; Ann Bradstreet: “Prologue,” “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” “Verses Upon the Burning of Our House,” “To My Dear Children”; John Smith: “Description of Virginia”; Diary of Hetty Shepard (Suggested: Olaudah Equiano (from Interesting Narrative … Written by Himself; Gottlieb Mittelberger “On the Misfortune of Indentured Servants”)
Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiography (Parts I and II); Mark Kann: Liberalism vs. Republicanism
Hannah Foster: The Coquette
Abigail Adams Letters; Irving: “Rip Van Winkle”; *** Draft of short writing assignment due October 26 (Thursday) at 12 noon.
Mary Ryan: “The Empire of the Mother”; Ann Douglas: “The Legacy of American Victorianism”; Harriet Beecher Stowe: “The Mourning Veil”; Anonymous “Doings of a Rum Shop”
Harriet Beecher Stowe: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Edgar Allan Poe: “The Black Cat” “The Man of the Crowd” “Murders in the Rue Morgue”
Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Roger Malvin’s Burial” “The Old Apple Dealer” “Wakefield”
Walt Whitman: “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
Friedrich Engles: “Manchester”; Herman Melville: “Bartleby the Scrivener”
The Lowell Offering: “Joan of Arc” “Gold Watches” “The Patchwork Quilt”; *** Draft of long writing assignment due December 21 (Thursday) at 12 noon
George Thompson: The Housebreaker; or, The Mysteries of Crime
Frederick Douglass Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Chaps 9/10); Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Chaps 1, 7, 10, 14, 21)
Assignments for EL 6073
Narrating the Republic
Weekly responses. The class will be run as a seminar, which means much of the discussion will be carried by students. Part of your preparation will be to write at least Six responses to the reading for six weeks (your choice), which you will send to class members by email. These will be 200-300 words in length and deal with reading for the coming week. They are due on Sunday, by 12 noon, beginning Sunday, September 24. Class members should print the responses, read them, and bring them to class along with the primary reading for the week. You should selected at least one passage from each response and be prepared to read it aloud and explain why you think it needs further consideration. Responses are evaluated based on their engagement with the reading, thoughtfulness, and effectiveness in provoking discussion. Late responses will be penalized. At the end of semester you will join them together and include them as part of your portfolio.
Portfolio (80% in total of your final grade). Due in my English Department mailbox Thursday at 12 noon of exam week (the week after the last official week of classes). This is a final deadline and will not be extended. Your portfolio will include three things.
Your collected responses, revised (if you wish), with the best two flagged (see above). (20% of your final grade)
Short writing assignment (1200-1800 words / 4-6 pages; 25% of your final grade) a first draft of which is due October 26 (Thursday) at 12 noon in my dept. mailbox. The task is to use something you have learned from your reading in Week 3 (Habermas or Anderson) to interpret one of the stories from Week 6/7 (Stowe or Irving). I will comment on draft essays and give tentative grades, which I will change based on your final revised version.
Final paper (3000-4000 words / 10-12 pages; 35% of your final grade) a first draft of which is due Dec 21 (Thursday) at 12 noon in my dept. mailbox. Here the topic is open, although it is advised that you work from an idea you first explore in a response, or that comes out of class discussion. I also suggest speaking to me before you begin writing. Again, I will comment on draft essays and give tentative grades, which I will then change based on your revised version.
Participation and attendance (20%). This is a seminar. Enough said.
Drafts are entirely voluntary. Not passing one in will not directly affect your final grade, except insofar as you will loose the benefit of my comments. You also do not have to revise your essay if you are happy with the initial grade you receive. Plan ahead. Sloppy, last minute, incomplete drafts are a waste of my time and yours. Late drafts will not be accepted. Except for weekly responses, email submissions will not be accepted. A late portfolio will lose 20% per day of its value.