Graduate Course Description

350:536 - Culture and Revolution: 1625-1688

Course No:  350:536
Index #: 14715
Distribution Requirement:  A2
Thursday - 3:50 p.m.
MU 207

Culture and Revolution: 1625-1688
Ann Baynes Coiro

Christopher Hill rightly calls the seventeenth century the “century of revolution.” A high-handed executive branch tries to operate alone. Ardent Protestants protest a mainstream culture they find ungodly. Black men and women become dehumanized items of exchange in the colonies. Women assume an increasingly central but controversial role across British society. Resistance grows to scientific advances that unsettle old ways of thinking. Man-made environmental damage becomes an ethical flashpoint. Credit and resulting debt enable an explosion of growth but also threaten economic disaster. War simmers and then breaks out on the border. An almost unimaginable series of civil wars erupts, opening a space to imagine a reorganization of economic and political hierarchy. A time of extraordinary cultural and political disruption, the seventeenth century is, as the 1619 Project has underscored, foundational in disturbing and still reverberating ways.

This course explores a range of poetry, prose and drama written from the beginning of Charles I’s reign (1625) through the English Civil Wars, the Interregnum, Restoration and the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688. These years witness some of the most brilliant writing of the early modern period: work, for example, by John Donne, Ben Jonson, Anne Bradstreet, Andrew Marvell, Lucy Hutchinson, Margaret Cavendish, John Milton, Hester Pulter, John Dryden and Aphra Behn, as well as the Civil War Putney Debates and radical writers such as Gerard Winstanley and Abiezer Coppe.

Our central questions will be: One, what is literary culture’s complicated role in any revolutionary moment. To what extent does literary culture produce revolution? Or react to it? Two, to what extent do we as critics project our own political viewpoint on the past? And how does the convulsive rupture of any revolution shape, perhaps disrupt, our subsequent, often partisan, understanding? How do we negotiate the ethics of historical equivalence that appropriates the past to neatly explain the present? Three, what is the impact of trauma, particularly the trauma of slavery and civil war, on canonical literature? How has trauma refigured or erased the enemies/ causes of guilt? How has that trauma shaped the canonical literature that shapes us to this day?           

Over the course of the semester participants will write five three- to four-page memos that will be published to the class before seminar meetings. Students will then choose one of their memos to develop into a 12-page conference paper OR into an article draft.