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Spring 2018 Undergraduate English Courses: Nineteenth Century

358:442 Seminar: Writing Reconstruction

01  MTH1  CAC  18547  CARMODY  SC-219

Writing Reconstruction

Reconstruction – the period of economic and political rebuilding that followed the American Civil War and the end of slavery – was a moment of unprecedented historical change. As the historian Eric Foner has written, “among the revolutionary processes that transformed the nineteenth-century world, none was so dramatic in its human consequences or far-reaching in its social implications as the abolition of chattel slavery.” Against this backdrop of historical rupture and remaking, our seminar will approach Reconstruction as a narrative problem. We will read some of the major literary and cultural works of the post-Civil War era in order to understand how Reconstruction became a story to be passed down and to what ends. We will ask how writers, filmmakers, and historians meditated on the nature of historical change in the abstract and explore the formal genres and strategies used to narrate the transition from slavery to freedom – from romance to tragedy and farce and from marriage plots to framing devices and flashbacks. Above all, we will ask how these strategies were used by writers to tell divergent and often directly contradictory stories about a period in U.S. history that seems more relevant today than ever.   

Readings will likely include works by Charles Chesnutt, Albion Tourgée, Mark Twain, Frances E.W. Harper, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, George Washington Cable, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Howard Odum, Sterling Brown, Woodrow Wilson, and W.E.B. Du Bois. We will also screen D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates