Topic Name Description
Course Syllabus Page Course Syllabus
1.1: The Influence of European Romanticism in America Page Romanticism in America

To begin, read this article about the influence of European Romanticism on American authors.

Page The Romantic Period, 1820–1860: Essayists and Poets

This article offers even more information about the romantic period in US literature. Many use the labels "American Romanticism" and "American Renaissance" interchangeably; as you dig into this course, ask yourself whether you see a potential distinction between these two terms and what each of them defines.

Page William Wordsworth's The Prelude

Read the first stanza (lines 1–44) of The Prelude, "Book Twelfth, Imagination and Taste, How Impaired and Restored", to appreciate the role that nature played in the sensibilities of the Romantic writers and artists. Wordsworth's Prelude is a lengthy autobiographical poem narrating, in the author's words, "the growth of the poet's Mind". It is representative of the European Romantic tradition, which is generally centered upon the individual and his experience, reverent toward nature, and colloquial in language.

Page Expanding and Revising the American Renaissance

Read this account of contemporary revisions to our understanding of the period. How do scholars now think more expansively about this time of literary production? Who do we now see as part of this literary outpouring?

1.2: Individuality, Conflict, and Context Page Ralph Waldo Emerson's "The American Scholar"

Read this speech and Truth's famous oration, which follows, in conversation with one another. In his remarks, delivered at Harvard University in 1837, Emerson called for a new creative spirit in America; America evidently responded in kind. Many consider this speech the rallying cry for the American Renaissance. Truth's speech at a Women's Rights Convention in 1851 offers an alternative account of the challenges Americans – especially women and people of color – faced in defining themselves during this period. Consider how Emerson and Truth defined self-making in their very different cultural contexts. This trope of "self-making" will resurface time and time again in the literature we read throughout this course, and it should begin to inform the way you understand the "American Renaissance" as a literary movement. Also, consider the voice and tone that Emerson used in this piece. What does it reveal about his access to education? What does it tell you about his audience? 

Page Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?"

As you read this speech from 1851, think about the kind of experiences Truth describes in relationship to those Emerson recounted several years earlier. Is she articulating a culture that cares about the kind of self she creates? Does she have the luxury to engage in self-making? What do her voice and tone reveal about her access to education and her audience?

1.3: President Jackson and Indian Removal Page Biography of Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was the 7th president of the United States. He was a "man of the people", and his election in 1828 to the highest office of the land was akin to a political, social, and economic revolution. He had little in common with those who had held that prestigious position before him. A man with little education and who was primarily known as a military man, the "hero" of the Indian Wars, he encouraged increased popular participation in government. He is often thought of as a self-made man. How is his self-making different or similar to what you just read by Emerson and Truth? Read this short biography for a fuller picture of the man, his legacy, and how his presidency shaped the period.

Page William Apess' "An Indian's Looking Glass for the White Man"

In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the brutal relocation of many tribes to Western US Lands. Read this work by William Apess (Pequot) from 1833. In it, he indicts what he calls "color prejudice", which would be referred to today as racism. You might do further research on Apess and the Pequot tribe to better understand this work and its significance. If you don't recognize the figures mentioned in this piece, look them up to help you have a more thorough understanding of what Apess is getting at here. Think about this essay as the perspective of a Native person on American identity (or even lack of identity and personhood) and culture at this time, and compare and contrast it with what Emerson and Truth articulate about the same topics.

1.4: Jacksonian Democracy and the Self-Made Man Page Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance"

Read Emerson's famous essay, which reflects the character of self-confidence, and think about how it defined the Jacksonian era. Emerson's oft-quoted essay "Self-Reliance" is considered one of the finest examples of the author's style, and a clear example of his thought. The essay was first published in 1841, but elements of the essay appeared in one of the author's journal entries as early as 1832, and in various public lectures given in the intervening years. As such, "Self-Reliance" reflects the idea that individualism was a necessary ingredient for success popular during the 1830s and 1840s.

Page Jacksonian Democracy and the Ideal of the Self-Made Man

As you saw when reading his biography, Jackson is widely regarded as a self-made man. Read this short essay on the development of this concept of the self-made man in the context of Jacksonian Democracy and American Romanticism. Think about how the pieces by Truth and Apess contradict this self-making. What does this reveal about race, ethnicity, and class in this literary period? Are certain people and voices allowed personhood when others are not?

1.5: The Second Great Awakening and the Emergence of Transcendentalism Page The Second Great Awakening and Transcendentalism

Another important cultural phenomenon taking place at this time centered on religion, and is often referred to as "The Second Great Awakening". Read this account of the religious fervor that swept the United States in the early 1800s, transforming American culture and society and paralleling the emergence of Transcendentalism.

Page Harold Clark Goddard's "Transcendentalism"

Read this excerpt about Transcendentalism, a scholarly account taken from Harold Clark Goddard's 18-volume History of American Literature that came out between 1907 and 1921. The movement emerged in 1836 with the first gathering of the Transcendental Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prominent contributors included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, William Henry Channing, and George Ripley. With Fuller's death in 1850, one of the movement's great advocates was silenced. Emerson lacked the ability and interest to follow in her path. Though their hold on the public imagination was short-lived, the long-lasting influence that the Transcendentalists had on American literature cannot be discounted. Even the philosophy's critics were forced to acknowledge the effects that the Transcendental Movement had on the world, particularly the American experience. Transcendentalism was a distinctly American expression, with concerns and ideals that did not fully translate in England or Continental Europe. Think about how this philosophy fits into the larger "American Renaissance" and what literary characteristics it offers to the era.

1.6: The "Transcendental Club" and "The Dial" Page Ralph Waldo Emerson's "The Editors to the Reader"

With this and the next resource, you will read Emerson's and Ripley's articles from The Dial, which appeared in July 1840 and January 1841, respectively. Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson established The Dial to publish works by Transcendentalist authors in America and to promote their efforts for social reform, the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, and workers' rights.

Page Sophia Ripley's "Woman"

Sophia Ripley writes in The Dial that "Woman is educated with the tacit understanding, that she is only half a being, and an appendage". Read this 1841 essay alongside the previous resource.

1.7: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Father of the Transcendental Movement Page Ralph Waldo Emerson

As we discussed before, Emerson was one of the main literary figures of this time. Read this introduction about his life and beliefs. Transcendentalism owed its interest in nature and individuality to Romanticism, but with its focus on the wide expanse of the US and the energy of its explorers, it evolved into a uniquely American expression. For the time, Transcendentalists were particularly attuned to the interests of non-white persons, namely Native Americans and African-Americans. Look for these inclinations here.

Page Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Gnothi Seauton"

Read Emerson's poem "Gnothi Seauton". Translated from Greek as "Know Thyself", the poem is a free-verse meditation on self-knowledge, loss, and spirituality. Consider how Emerson's thoughts here relate to the overall concepts of Transcendentalism. Do any of his verses seem to divert from those concepts, or reinforce or represent them?

1.8: Competing Visions of Reform Page George Ripley's "1840 Letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson"

Read the exchange between Ripley and Emerson. Consider Emerson's notion of reform as put forth in "Self-Reliance" in contrast to Ripley's plan for Brook Farm. In his letter to Emerson, Ripley – the founder of Brook Farm – lays out several core Transcendental views on social reform, including humane relationships, respect for individual freedom, and the merging of values and ideas with spiritual events. He believed that Brook Farm would serve as a transformative model for society.

Page Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Reply to George Ripley"

Read this letter. As the Cambridge History points out, Emerson's refusal to join the community represented the more individualistic and more famous side of Transcendentalism. He emphasized that the first and most important aspect of reform was the self, and that all social and cultural reform would follow naturally once the self was reformed. While Emerson abstained from the Brook Farm Project, he later became increasingly involved in the anti-slavery movement, even though he was consistently skeptical of organized reform movements. Parts 13 and 14 of The Cambridge History discuss another leading Transcendentalist, Theodore Parker, and his role as a leading critic of slavery and of capitalist economic exploitation. As we will see in our examination of Margaret Fuller and Orestes Brownson in later units, many other Transcendentalists offered trenchant social critiques on other issues, sometimes speaking in favor of specific social changes and political causes, even if they did not see Brook Farm as the vehicle for reforming society. Thus, while most leading Transcendentalists did not participate in Brook Farm and many questioned its emphasis on community reform over individual reform, it represented a key element of Transcendentalist thought: the attempt to link individual spiritual improvement to social reform.

2.1.1: Ralph Waldo Emerson Page Ralph Waldo Emerson's "The Poet"
Read these important critical statements on poetry by Emerson along with a sampling of his poetry and the accompanying critical overview. Emerson argues that the poet is a seer who penetrates the mysteries of the universe and articulates the universal truths that bind humanity together. Hence, the true poet, who puts into words what others feel but cannot express, speaks for all men and women. What do you notice about both content and form? Can any of these poems be read on an allegorical level?
Page Overview of Ralph Waldo Emerson and "The Poet"

Read this critical overview of Emerson and "The Poet".

Page Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Threnody"

Read this poem alongside the other works in this subunit.

Page Ralph Waldo Emerson's "The Rhodora"

Read this poem alongside the other works in this subunit.

Page Ralph Waldo Emerson's "The Snow-Storm"

Read this poem alongside the other works in this subunit.

2.1.2: Edgar Allen Poe Page Edgar Allan Poe's "Philosophy of Composition"

Read this important critical statement on poetry by Poe, his most famous poem, and the accompanying critical overview. Poe and Emerson are usually considered two of the most important American Romantics. They felt that poetry was humankind's greatest artistic achievement, but they had distinctly different ideas about what constituted great poetry. "The Raven" demonstrates assonance, alliteration, simile, metaphor, personification, and onomatopoeia. If you are unfamiliar with these literary terms, search the internet for definitions and review how they apply to the stanzas in this poem.

Page Overview of Edgar Allen Poe and "Philosophy of Composition"

Read this critical overview alongside the other works in this subunit.

Page Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven"

Read this poem alongside the other works in this subunit.

2.2: The Question of Poetry's Social Role Page John Greenleaf Whittier
Read this profile of John Greeleaf Whittier, the Poet Laureate of Reform. Think about it as you explore his poem next.
Page John Greenleaf Whittier's "The Christian Slave"

Read this poem, which describes a slave auction in New Orleans during which the auctioneer describes the woman on the stands as "a good Christian", alongside the other works in this subunit.

Page Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Witnesses"

Read this poem alongside the other works in this subunit.

Page Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Quadroon Girl"

Read this poem alongside the other works in this subunit.

Page Edgar Allan Poe's "Review of Longfellow's Ballads and Other Poems"

Read Poe's review of Longfellow's ballads and poems. One of Poe's key contributions to poetic criticism was the idea that poetry should have no ulterior motive. As a self-identified Southerner, he took particular exception to anti-slavery poetry, such as that written by the popular Longfellow.

Page Edgar Allan Poe's "Review of Longfellow's Poems"

Read this review of Longfellow's poems alongside the other works in this subunit.

2.3: Walt Whitman, Free Verse, and the Poetics of Democracy Page Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd"

During the Civil War, Whitman worked as a clerk in Washington, DC. For three years, he visited soldiers during his spare time, dressing wounds and giving solace to the injured. These experiences led to the poems in his 1865 elegy for President Lincoln, Drum-Taps, which includes, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd". In this poem, Whitman uses a literary device called apostrophe, which can be defined as a direct address of a person, thing, or concept that is physically absent or abstract. Examine his use of this technique and think about how it affects the meaning or content of the poem.

Page Free Verse

This article provides a brief explanation of free verse as a poetic form. How does the literary device you read about in the previous subunit, apostrophe, relate to the concept of free verse?

Page Introduction to Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass"

In his 1855 epic poem, Whitman celebrates democracy, love, friendship, and nature. Read this introductory essay to Leaves of Grass.

Page Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"

Whitman's expansive lyrical poem "Song of Myself", the first poem in the original edition of his lifelong project, Leaves of Grass, is one of the most celebrated poems in the American canon. In the poem, Whitman breaks away from standard meter and regular rhyme schemes, freely expressing a sense of "self" in the American vernacular.

Page Image of Walt Whitman from 1855 Edition of "Leaves of Grass"

Examine this famous steel engraving (from a daguerreotype) of Whitman, used to introduce his revolutionary volume of poetry Leaves of Grass in 1855.

Page Walt Whitman

Watch this lecture on Walt Whitman. Take notes to add to what you've already learned about Whitman and his writings.

2.4: Emily Dickinson and the Personal Lyric URL The Emily Dickinson Project

During her lifetime, Emily Dickinson wrote poems that were bundled together as a cluster of pages called a fascicle. These bundles of pages found after her death by her sister Lavinia, who had been willed all of Emily Dickinson's earthly possessions. In total, there were 40 different fascicles, or booklets, of more than 800 poems. These poems were then published and edited, and the published versions were often changed from Dickinson's originals. Explore this website to see the poems contained in two original fascicles, #6 and #16. Compare the original manuscripts with various edited publications of Dickinson's poems, and read about the analysis of these poems. 

Page Emily Dickinson and the Nineteenth-Century Women Poets: The Poetics and Politics of Reticence

Women's literature was suppressed by the patriarchal system of the nineteenth century, and society demanded reticence in writing by women, and the elimination of anger, sexual feelings, and ambition in their work. Many scholars of Dickinson talk about the ways she complied with this demand by using strategic reticence. Read this article carefully to understand the ways in which Dickinson created a unique poetic form to challenge the conventions of her time.

Page Emily Dickinson's "I'm Nobody"

Building on what you've now read about Dickinson, read this poem and the following works in this subunit.

Page Emily Dickinson's "The Soul Selects Her Own Society"

Read this poem alongside the other works in this subunit.

Page Emily Dickinson's "I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died"

Read this poem alongside the other works in this subunit.

Page Emily Dickinson's "I Felt a Funeral in my Brain"

Read this poem alongside the other works in this subunit.

Page Critical Commentary on Emily Dickinson

Listen to this critical commentary on the work of Emily Dickinson. Take notes on the lecture and those to what you have already learned about Dickinson and her large body of poetry. Think especially about her unique literary style, composed of dashes and lowercase letters.

3.1: "The Limit of One Sitting" and Concerns with Length Page The Short Story

Read this introduction to the short story in general and to Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville's particular roles in developing the form and what would later become known as its conventions.

Page Nathaniel Hawthorne

To better understand some of the context surrounding these writers, read this short biography of Hawthorne.

3.2: The Short Story's Artistry and Conventions Page Edgar Allan Poe's "Review of Twice-Told Tales"

Read Poe's influential review of Hawthorne's collection Twice-Told Tales.

Page Edgar Allen Poe: "The Cask of Amontillado"

Read one of Poe's most famous short stories, "The Cask of Amontillado".

Page Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil"

Read this story, which is one of the stories Poe mentions in his review of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales. Like a lot of Hawthorne's works, "The Minister's Black Veil" provides the backdrop for an exploration of sin, repentance, and morality. In his review of Hawthorne and his works, Poe echoes the principles he outlines in "The Philosophy of Composition", which you read in Unit 2, arguing for the short story's artistic superiority to the novel.

3.3: The Gothic, Suspense, and the Macabre Page The Gothic and the Antebellum American Short Story

In literature, "the gothic" broadly refers to works that emphasize or explore the supernatural or psychological in terms of a darker underside, works that embody a perspective of the world and/or human nature as fraught with uncertainty, dark forces – whether natural, supernatural, or human – beyond rational control, and danger both from without (from deceptive villains) and within (from immoral instincts and desires). More narrowly, the gothic refers to a literary movement emerging at the end of the eighteenth century in England with the publication of novels such as Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), which is often cited as the first Gothic novel. Read this introductory essay on the Gothic in the antebellum American short story.

Page Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Read this Gothic short story alongside the other works in this subunit.

Page Edgar Allan Poe's "Ligeia"

Read this Gothic short story alongside the other works in this subunit.

Page Edgar Allan Poe's "The Imp of the Perverse"

Read this Gothic short story alongside the other works in this subunit. In this story, pay particular attention to Poe's theorization of human psychology.

Page Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"

In this story published in 1835, Hawthorne focuses on the tensions within Puritan culture, particularly the sense of sin. In a symbolic fashion, the story follows Young Goodman Brown's journey into self-scrutiny, which results in his loss of virtue and belief. Read this story and identify the elements that locate this story in the Gothic tradition. Think also about the power that evil and secrecy play in the narrative. How are the characters developed around these themes? 

Page Herman Melville's "Hawthorne and His Mosses"

For further exploration of the Gothic, read this account to see Hawthorne's power of suggesting the darkness of life despite a sunny veneer to his stories – which is as applicable to Melville himself as to Hawthorne.

3.4: Building a New Genre with the Detective Story Page Rationalism and Romanticism in Detective Fiction

This period also saw the rise of another genre: the detective story. Crime fiction attends to the investigation of a crime by a character acting in the role of detective, whether he or she is a professional or an amateur. The crime in question is typically a murder – in addition to being the most thrilling and frightening crime of all, murder is an archaic and fundamental aspect of every society, a destroying force that is present everywhere and across all time boundaries. Most importantly, though, murder is highly variable. There are an infinite number of motives, methods, punishments, and emotions associated with the act of taking another's life. Consequently, detective fiction established and followed a definitive formula that readers never tired of, since authors can spin unlimited original variations. Read this essay on the relationship between romanticism and rationalism in detective fiction.

Page Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue"
Read this story, which is often considered the first modern detective story. Make a list all the conventions of the detective story genre. How do they seem to differ from the stories you read in the Gothic tradition? What characteristics do they share? 
Page Biography of Herman Melville

To prepare for the next short story, read this biography of Herman Melville.

Page Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno"

Building on what you have learned about the short story, the Gothic, and the detective genre, read this famous novella, a mystery featuring an obtuse major character and a relevant political context. You should take notes while reading; when you finish, write a paragraph about your own interpretation of the events of the story.

Page Essay on Herman Melville's 'Benito Cereno'

After reading "Benito Cereno" and writing out your own interpretation, read this short essay, which provides an overview of recent interpretations of Melville's story, and see how your ideas compare to those expressed by scholars of the text.

4.1: The Establishment of American Publishers and the Passage of Copyright Laws Page Publishing in the US, 1820–1860

Publishing saw extensive change in the United States from 1820 to 1860. Read this piece to learn about some of the innovations in this industry.

Page What Copyright Protection Is and How It Works

Copyright laws were established as the American publishing industry changed. Read through this article to see how copyright influenced publishing and writing.

4.2: The Rise of Literacy and Public Education in the Young Republic Page Literacy

Changes in publishing and copyright relate to the ways that literacy rates rose during this period. Read this data-driven piece about the advances in the country's literacy rates during the American Renaissance.

Page Educational Reforms

The earliest public schools were established in the nineteenth century and were known as "common schools", a term coined by American educational reformer Horace Mann that refers to the aim of these schools to serve individuals of all social classes and religions. Read these sections to get a sense of how public education and learning got its start during this period.

Page Native American Education at Carlisle and Hampton

In the 19th century, it became clear that the Native Americans would either face extermination or "civilization". In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Americans built an all-encompassing system of Indian academies. These academies were largely funded by Congress and increasingly controlled from Washington. These schools were primarily residential, boarding institutes. Their goal was to instruct Indian children in white ways or to get rid of native tribal cultures. Attempts to educate the Indians were based on the ideals of assimilation or nothing at all. Policymakers never took into account that Native Americans had their own set of skills and intellect that they could bring to the table. In general, the system of mass education, not only for Native Americans but for other immigrants, has been based around deculturation and not integration. Many of these boarding schools used violence as a way of controlling Native children. Upon entrance to the schools, Native children were stripped of their tribal clothing, hairstyles, and anything they brought with them and were instructed not to speak their tribal languages. Richard Henry Pratt, founder of the infamous Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, is known for his philosophy "kill the Indian to save the man". Read this essay to learn more about the the founding of these types of schools and the their practices.

4.3: The Popularity of the Novel Page A Short History of the Early American Novel

As you can probably tell by now, the period before the start of the Civil War has great reason to be called "The American Literary Renaissance". A variety of literary forms crystallized during this time of great social, historical, and economic change. In order to learn more about another literary form that rose in popularity during this time, read this brief history of the American novel tradition.

URL Fiction Literature

Building on the previous essay, read this article to trace the changes in the novel form across time. This article shows how the novel is only one category of fiction. Take notes on this, as it offers terminology that will help you as you progress through the course. 

4.4: The Romance and Nathaniel Hawthorne Page Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Preface to The House of the Seven Gables"

Fiction also includes the "romance" genre. Writers and readers during this time had a different understanding of the "romance" than we have today. Read Hawthorne's preface to The House of the Seven Gables to understand how Hawthorne differentiates between the novel and the romance.

Page Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"

Read The Scarlet Letter, starting with "The Preface" and "The Custom-House". In his preface to The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne offers his famous definition of the romance as opposed to the novel. He continues to develop this definition in "The Custom-House", his long introduction to this most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, which was published in 1850. As you read, think about its narrative structure. Pay special attention to the scaffold scenes. How many are there? Who is in these scenes? How would you define these symbols and/or characters: representations of Church and State, the world of evil, the scarlet letter, the number 3, the punishing scaffold, and the kiss?

Page The Scarlet "A": Role-Play in Writing

Examine this lesson plan, and read through it as if you are a participant in a class in which the teacher or professor is asking you to engage in these activities. In doing these assignments, you will examine the characters' motivations, conflicts, and cultural influences in The Scarlet Letter. By stepping into the shoes of the characters, you will get a better sense of what they each struggled with in their society.

4.5: Sensationalism Page Sensationalism

Sentimentalism and sensationalism are the interrelated poles of the popular literature rejected by American literary history until the last few decades. Sensationalism refers to texts that provide sexual titillation, evoke terror, and represent disturbing and unusual behavior and images merely to create a reaction in readers. Texts in this category also often focused on the social conditions that surrounded urban crime and immorality. It drew on and grew out of the literary Gothic that you read about previously. Read this introduction to sensationalism in the antebellum period.

4.6: Sentimentalism Page Sentimentalism

As this article states:

"For most of the past two centuries, 'sentimentalism' has been used pejoratively to refer to a tendency towards overt emotionalism in literature and other cultural forms, an evocation of sympathy based on the most common-placed and clichéd situations and images. [...] According to the older tradition, as the country modernized, becoming more market-oriented and urbanized, popular taste withdrew into the pleasure of an easy emotionalism, feelings of nostalgia and sympathy that allowed people to feel an untroubled connection to characters and to avoid the deep intellectual puzzles and problems that the true literature of the period addressed. Such a view provided a foundation for many critics to dismiss much of the most popular literature of the period, especially literature written by women, as women authors and readers were seen as particularly emotional."

To learn more about the characteristics critics used during this time to distinguish between serious literature and sentimental novels, read this article.

URL Fanny Fern's (Sara Payson Willis') "Ruth Hall"

Read Ruth Hall, the autobiographical novel by one of the most famous authors of the era, Fanny Fern, the pseudonym of Sara Payson Willis. Willis' novel, as with much of her writing, both embraces and critiques domestic ideology. She defends her autobiographical heroine's foray into the public world of publishing in terms of her role as a mother, while simultaneously revealing, with caustic wit and satire, the hypocrisy of those who object to women taking a more active role in financially providing for themselves and their families. As such, her novel does not fit squarely within the category of domestic sentimental fiction but rather delineates some of the populist ideas behind such fiction as well as their limits.

5.1: Technology and Class Division Page Technology, Industrialization, and Antebellum U.S. Literature

America changed dramatically during this time.

"While the majority of Americans seemed to embrace technology and its promise of progress and equality, many of the most famous writers of the era rejected technology on multiple grounds, even as they saw profound potential in either the inventive spirit behind new technologies, technology's ability to free the body for presumably higher pursuits, or the disciplined efficiency of mechanical works."

Read this introductory overview of antebellum American literature's relationship to technological development and industrialization during the era.

Page Orestes Brownson's "The Laboring Classes"

Orestes Brownson penned one of the most powerful critiques of capitalism in the antebellum United States, "Laboring Classes". Although Brownson was a leading transcendentalist, representing its more social-activist wing (as opposed, perhaps, to Emerson), in the years following the publication of this essay, he became increasingly conservative, renouncing his radical past and transcendentalism and converting to Catholicism. Read this essay and take notes on Brownson's ideas.

5.2: Economic Development Page The Election of 1824

The election of 1824 was significant for being the only presidential election thus far where the winner of the most electoral votes did not win the election. Read this article to learn how this election's outcome set the stage for those that followed.

Page Antebellum Economic Development and the Growth of Consumerism

Read this short overview of the emergence of consumerism in nineteenth-century America.

Page Immigration

There was relatively little immigration into the United States from 1770 to 1830. Large-scale immigration resumed in the 1830s from Britain, Ireland, Germany, and other parts of western Europe, and the pace of immigration accelerated in the 1840s and 1850s. Most immigrants were attracted by the cheap farmland available in the United States, and some were artisans and skilled factory workers attracted by the first stage of industrialization. Poor economic conditions in Europe drove many people to seek land, freedom, opportunity, and jobs in the new nation of America. Read through these sections to think about how immigration influenced the new social order being formed during this time. Think also about how these groups of immigrants might have faced racism and discrimination upon their entrance into the US.

5.3: Urban Popular Culture, the Penny Press, and the New Social Order Page The Penny Press and the Emergence of Urban Mass Culture

This essay details the changes in newspaper production with the rise of the Penny Press and also explains the emergence of urban mass culture. While many authors during this time attempted to draw together diverse audiences by uniting disparate elements of American culture, they also delineated themselves from what they saw as an undisciplined and unrefined subculture. As such, authors like Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, Dickinson, and Melville prefigured the further division of elite and mass culture that came to define much of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth literary and cultural debates.

Page The New Social Order

The US was experiencing profound economic changes during this time, and those changes led to equally important social and cultural transformations. The formation of distinct classes, especially in the rapidly industrializing North, was one of the most striking developments. The unequal distribution of newly created wealth led to divisions along class lines. Perhaps most interestingly, the middle class began to form during this period. Read this essay to learn about these important changes in culture.

URL The Lost Museum

Watch the introductory video and explore this website to discover more about P.T. Barnum, one of the most well-known Americans and collectors of popular culture during this period. Don't miss the "Classroom" link. You will find an abundance of essays and information available here to help you better understand Barnum's role in making culture.

Page Blackface Minstrelsy

Blackface minstrelsy arose during this period. Read this essay to understand what it entailed and why it became so popular.

5.4: Melville, Capitalism, and the Limits of Sympathy Page Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener"

You were introduced to Melville's work before; now you will read his two most famous short stories, "Bartleby, the Scrivener" and "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids", with an eye toward the consequences of swift economic change. Melville's "Bartleby" is one of the most famous American short stories, and has increasingly been read in terms of the development of capitalism in the antebellum era. Make sure to think about the ways in which Melville uses symbolism, imagery, repetition, dialogue, and allusion in these two stories.

Page Essay on Herman Melville's 'Bartleby, the Scrivener'

This essay introduces some of the interpretations of Melville's most famous short story.

Page Herman Melville's "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids"

Melville's diptych "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids" offers a clear critique of the division of labor (and leisure) during the period.

5.5: The Move toward Realism in Davis' "Life in the Iron-Mills" Page Essay on Rebecca Harding Davis' "Life in the Iron-Mills"

First published anonymously in The Atlantic Monthly in 1861, Rebecca Harding Davis' novella "Life in the Iron-Mills" largely disappeared from American literary history until it was republished in 1972 by the Feminist Press. In the decades since then, however, Davis' short work has been appreciated as an important early description of the moral and social costs of industrialization, a key work bridging the sentimentalism of the mid-nineteenth century and the realism of the latter part of the century, as well as a significant meditation on art and the role of the artist in industrial capitalism". Read this introductory essay to Davis' important novella.

Page Rebecca Harding Davis' "Life in the Iron-Mills"

Read Davis' novella. Trace the way that you see Davis bridge sentimentalist fiction with more realist styles, often more visible toward the end of the nineteenth century. Ask yourself the following questions while reading:

  • Look at the title. What is the significance of it?
  • Who is the "I" or narrative voice in the text?
  • Who is the "you" that the narrative voice addresses?
  • What is the effect of this direct address of the reader?
  • Find descriptions of Hugh and Deb. What do they look like, what do they do, how do they talk? What is their relationship?
  • Look at the descriptions of the sculpture of the woman made from korl (waste product of the mills). How is it described? What details are important? How do different characters describe it? What symbolism might be involved here?
  • Several men meet Hugh at the mill; among them are Kirby (the overseer and son of a mill owner), Doctor May, and Mitchell (Kirby's brother-in-law). What position(s) do each of these three men take towards Hugh? What do they say to him?
  • What has happened to Hugh and to Deb at the end of the story? Did you expect these outcomes for these characters? What do these endings suggest?
  • What do you make of the final two paragraphs where the narrator returns? Why is this here? How does it help the ending?
  • What additional insight does this give us into the narrator ("I") and the "you" from the earlier part of the story?
5.6: American Nature as Challenge to American Progress Page Essay on Henry David Thoreau and "Walden"

You have already been introduced to Thoreau as a writer. Read this short essay on get a better sense of him as an activist.

URL Henry David Thoreau's "Walden"

Read chapters 1–5 (Economy; Where I Lived, and What I Lived For; Reading; Sounds; Solitude), 11 (Higher Laws), and 17–18 (Spring; Conclusion) of Thoreau's masterpiece. Walden denies most genre categories including the novel, autobiography, and narrative; instead, the work roams freely from subject to subject, discussing the cycle of seasons, the experience of solitude, and local attractions, among other things.

Page Henry David Thoreau's "Resistance to Civil Government"

In this influential political manifesto, also known as "Civil Disobedience", we find a passionate response to the US-Mexican War and the slavery controversy. With this work, Thoreau influenced such twentieth-century leaders as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

6.1: Women's Rights in the Young Republic Page Boundless: "Women and the Early Republic"

In this unit, you will read about the various roles of women in society. Read these sections, and note the ways that women's roles were changing during this time. While women were often relegated to the private sphere of the home, they also found ways to challenge the norms of the time and enter public life in ways that would not have been possible in previous decades. In eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century America, the legal status of married women was defined as "coverture", meaning a married woman had no legal or economic status independent of her husband. She could not conduct business or buy and sell property. Her husband controlled any property she brought to the marriage, although he could not sell it without her agreement. Women also lacked the right to sue, file for divorce, pursue legal recourse, or vote. Married women's status did not change because of the American Revolution, and wives remained economically dependent on their husbands. Many women in the early eighteenth century, however, began to agitate for legal equality between husbands and wives and for the same educational opportunities as men.

URL U.S. Department of State: "Women of Influence"

Read pages 11–16 for an introduction to Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. You might even look at this document as a whole if you have time. Think about how women's roles have changed over history. Did you know that the Women's Rights Movement began in the nineteenth century?

Page Susan B. Anthony's "On Women's Right to Vote"

Now that you've read a short intro to Anthony's life, read her suffragist statement with those biographical details in mind.

Page The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions (1848)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her colleagues worked hard to bring together a gathering of men and women to address what they saw as a matter of critical concern for American democracy. Several days of discussion resulted in this document, which they cleverly patterned after Jefferson's famous declaration. Today the National Women's Historic Site and Hall of Fame are located at Seneca Falls. Read this important declaration.

Page Women's Sphere and the Emergence of the Women's Rights Movement

Keeping what Stanton and her colleagues worked for in mind, read this overview of the domestic ideology and its relationship to the development of the women's rights movement during the nineteenth century.

6.2: Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody, and the Transcendentalists Page "2014 Summer Conversational Series: Margaret Fuller and the Problem of Female Genius"

This article outlines a presentation given by Dr. John Matteson, who wrote a critical text on Margaret Fuller called The Lives of Margaret Fuller: A Biography in 2012. In this article, he contemplates her genius as well as her place in nineteenth century American literature and letters.

Page Margaret Fuller's "Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Chapter 1"

For further insight into Margaret Fuller and her young life, read this excerpt from her 1852 autobiographical text, Memoirs of Margaret Full Ossoli. You will see an example of her writing skills here, as well as the way that she conceptualizes herself and her past.

Page Margaret Fuller's "The Great Lawsuit, Man versus Men, Woman versus Women"

In Fuller's essay "The Great Lawsuit", she applies Transcendentalist thought to the question of women's rights. This essay was published in The Dial, which she co-edited with Emerson. She later expanded this essay into the book Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Fuller, as with many early feminists, connected the difficulties women faced to the evils of slavery in making her case for women to develop their souls as freely and fully as they could. She makes few to no allusions to legal or political changes, as later feminists would insist upon.

Page New World Encyclopedia: "Elizabeth Palmer Peabody"

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody was a teacher and educational reformer, founder of the kindergarten system in the United States, and an advocate of Native Americans' right to education. She was a prominent figure within the Transcendentalist movement, and published their literary journal, The Dial, in 1842 and 1843. In 1849, in the periodical Aesthetic Papers, she was first to publish Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. She supported important writers of the era, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller, with her bookstore and publishing house in Boston. It was the seat of cultural and intellectual thought in America in the mid-1800s. She was also instrumental in publishing the Paiute Indian activist Sarah Winnemucca's autobiography, Life Among the Paiutes. Peabody has been called "an American Renaissance Woman" for the scope and breadth of her work, which included writing, lecturing, publishing, and activism for minority rights. Her experimental work with kindergartens ignited an educational revolution in the public school systems throughout America, and resulted in a lasting legacy for today's children. Read this biography of her life to understand the important role she played during this time.

6.3: Law, Class, Race, and Marriage Page Elizabeth Stoddard's "Lemorne versus Huell"

Read Stoddard's emotionally complex short story from 1863. Stoddard's story is told in first person by the main character, who feels trapped by her gender and her class. The story reveals the ways that law and society enforced women's subservience, even as it explores the complicity of the narrator's own sexuality in her entrapment. One major source of Stoddard's importance to American literature is the historicism of her work, the manner in which her writing embodied and subverted the tension of her present-day culture with the archetypal or received values of the American past. A pioneering predecessor of regionalist authors Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Kate Chopin, as well as a precursor of American modernism, Stoddard's writing is remarkable for its almost total lack of sentimentality, pervasive use of irony, psychological depth of richly drawn characters, intense atmospheric descriptions of New England, concise language, and innovative use of narrative voice and structure. Her investigation of relations between the sexes, a dominant focus of her fiction, analyzes emotions ranging from love and desire to disdain, aggression, and depression. You might research her further through a Google search or by consulting Wikipedia.

Page New World Encyclopedia: "Alice Paul"

Read through this profile and of Alice Stokes Paul, who worked on some of the most outstanding political achievements on behalf of women in the 20th century. She was an American suffragist leader, and along with her friend Lucy Burns and others, she led a successful campaign for women's suffrage that resulted in granting the right to vote to women in the US federal election in 1920.

Page New World Encyclopedia: "Frances Harper"

The Women's Movement, which was gaining momentum during this time, included many women of color who often are not remembered for their important contributions. Read this biographical sketch of Frances Harper and take note of her poem "Bury Me in a Free Land", which was composed in 1845.

Page New World Encyclopedia: "Ida. B. Wells Barnett"

Ida B. Wells Barnett is another African-American woman who fought for both women's and African-Americans' rights during this time period. You can read her famous 1892 pamphlet, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law In All Its Phases, here. You should also seek out other biographies and writings by women of color, such as Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Eliza Church Terrell, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin, who were all involved in the fight for equal rights.

6.4: Sentiment, Religion, and the Power of Womanhood URL Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World

The Wide, Wide World is an 1850 novel by Susan Warner. It was published under the pseudonym Elizabeth Wetherell, and is often called America's first bestseller. This text went through fourteen editions in two years, and may ultimately have been as popular as Uncle Tom's Cabin with nineteenth-century American readers. At the beginning of the novel, Ellen Montgomery is driven from her home. She travels through the world and encounters a variety of difficult circumstances. Through these challenges, she begins to craft an identity based on Christian values and principles. The book ends on the verge of her adulthood and marriage, which was the only acceptable form of maturity for a young girl at the time. This book is a textbook example of domestic fiction, and was largely forgotten until recently. Read the short first five chapters to get a sense of this work. While you are reading, identify the generic traits of the domestic novel.

Page Essay on Louisa May Alcott and "Little Women"

This short piece offers a good introduction to Alcott and her most famous novel Little Women.

URL Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women"

Read Alcott's famous novel set during the Civil War in this two-volume version, which was published in 1868 and 1869. Alcott's Little Women depicts the lives of four sisters and their relationships to one another, to men, and to their family. It offers a good cross-section of the experiences – domestic and otherwise – of the new American woman. Think about these discussion questions as you read through this text:

  • Why do you think Little Women is divided into two halves? How do the tone and structure of the story change between the two? What is lost? What is gained?
  • Is the March family realistic?
  • Does Little Women reinforce or challenge gender stereotypes?
  • Despite the importance of Christian faith to the March family, why do you think Louisa May Alcott chose to make the religious references in the novel abstract instead of specific?
  • Is Little Women really a "children's book"? What aspects of it seem directed at or appropriate for child readers? Adult readers?
  • How does this novel address the question of women's place in society at the time?
  • Which relationships are the most important in the novel? Why?
7.1: Slavery and the Debate over Abolition Page Resistance and Abolition

Consider these questions as you read this article: In what ways did Africans resist slavery, and what was the impact of this resistance? Who was involved in anti-slavery movements, and how did the sentiment spread? What arguments did anti-slavery movements use to advance their cause?

Page The Library of Congress: "Abolition, Anti-Slavery Movements, and the Rise of the Sectional Controversy"

To better understand abolition, antislavery movements, and the rise of the sectional controversy, read this text, which provides a short overview of abolition with related images from the Library of Congress.

7.2: Manifest Destiny and the Expanding Western Frontier Page Boundless: "Manifest Destiny and the Western Frontier"

The mid-nineteenth century was a time of great geographical expansion for the United States. The relocation of Native tribes, the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the California Gold Rush, and other events helped define this moment in history. Read this text to see the impact these events had on life, culture, and literature in the United States. Conversations around Manifest Destiny also seemed to hinge on slavery. Would new territories allow slavery or not? Read with this question in mind.

Page The Mexican War and Expansion of Slavery

Watch this lecture from on the expansion of the United States and the question of slavery. Take notes while you watch, and think about the effects of these political conversations on the people living in the territories in question. 

7.3: Radical Abolition and The Liberator Page Essay on David Walker, William Lloyd Garrison, and the Emergence of Radical Abolitionism

Read this short introduction to two abolitionist figures, David Walker and William Lloyd Garrison, and the concept of "radical abolitionism".

Page William Lloyd Garrison's "The Liberator: To the Public"
In this introduction to the first edition of the antislavery paper he published for more than 30 years, you will encounter Garrison's straightforward and uncompromising statement of aims. Garrison began his antislavery newspaper The Liberator with a fiery introduction in which he stated his unequivocal abolitionist perspective and demanded that he be heard. Walker's text appeared a few years before Garrison began The Liberator and called upon African Americans to resist slavery by any means necessary.
Page Excerpts from David Walker's "Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World"

Read these excerpts from David Walker's 1829 "Appeal", a radical document by a free African American living in Boston.

Page New World Encyclopedia: "Lucretia Mott"

Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793–1880) was a Quaker minister, abolitionist, social reformer, and proponent of women's rights. She is sometimes credited with being the first American feminist, but was more accurately one of the first political advocates for women in the early nineteenth century. During a time when women rarely spoke in public, she became an outspoken orator as an ordained minister for the Quaker Church, and she publicly condemned the horrors of slavery. Read this biographical sketch of her life and fight against slavery. Many women activists fought for both the rights of women and African-Americans at the same time.

7.4: The Slave Narrative Page Essay on the Slave Narrative

The slave narrative can broadly be defined as any first-person account of the experience of being enslaved. Read this introductory essay on the slave narrative as a literary genre.

Page Frederick Douglass' "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass"

Read Douglass' incredibly influential work from 1845, which became a bestseller and provided a textual model for many slave narratives that followed. Take notice specifically about how he comes to literacy and realizes his own self-worth.

URL Harriet Jacobs' "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl"

Jacobs' 1861 narrative draws on and overturns many of the conventions of domestic sentimentalism embraced by mid-century American women. Read this revisionary account of the life of a slave woman. 

7.5: Uncle Tom's Cabin Page Essay on Harriet Beecher Stowe and "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

Read this short introduction to Stowe's bestselling novel to get a sense of its importance during this time.

URL Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

To learn why it is so influential during this time, read Stowe's novel. Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century, and arguably played a major role in fueling antislavery commitments in the North. Drawing on sentimental tropes and the emotional fervor of nineteenth-century American Protestantism, it combines its antislavery arguments with idealized portraits of motherhood and stereotypes of African-Americans. While it is often lauded for its abolitionist agenda, the stereotypical portrayals of gender and race have cultivated sharp criticism. Ask yourself these questions as you read:

  • How does the author portray differences between women and men?
  • How is power distributed between genders in this book?
  • What role does fate or chance play in the circumstances of the book?
  • How does Stowe answer the question of slavery?
  • Do you see a link between religion and slavery in this text?
  • Can a text be antislavery if its representations of African-Americans are stereotypical?
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