American Literature: Origins to the Civil War

“American Identity and Environment”

from the cover of Philip Deloria’s Playing Indian

The Puritan settlers came to New England with the conviction that God had sent them on an “errand in the wilderness.” Their encounters with the landscape and the indigenous populations produced an intense and varied religious experience. The diversity of American religious experience expanded through the Enlightenment and American Revolution, leading to 19th Century attempts to balance religious virtue with pragmatic principles. We will examine American religious and political origins through the early settlers’ experiences in the American wilderness, the Puritan and Transcendentalist search for truth in nature, as well as the national desire for self-definition in 19th Century American literature before the Civil War. The course will be focused on how environment has shaped American identity, and how environment is used as a literary and philosophical tool: to frame narratives, position pragmatic arguments, catalyze personal and political change, and open possibilities for explorations of gender and sexuality.