Unit 1: The American Renaissance in Context
What was happening in society and culture that might have spurred the explosion of literary expression seen during the antebellum period of American history? As you most likely know, the term "antebellum" refers to the period before the Civil War and is generally considered to span the years between 1781–1860. This period in turn includes what is known as the "American Renaissance" of literature, between 1830–1860. In this unit, we will situate the American Renaissance in its socio-historical context. We will first examine how the American Renaissance was influenced by European Romanticism and ultimately gave rise to the specifically American voices of authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sojourner Truth, and William Apess, who all investigated what it meant to exist as a human being during this time. We will also engage with the historical context of Jacksonian Democracy, self-making, and the values placed on the human experience according to race, ethnicity, and class position. Lastly, we will explore the American philosophy of Transcendentalism – the religious-philosophical movement that gave rise to some of the most important literary figures of the period, including Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 7 hours.