• Spring 2019 Graduate Seminar Syllabus: Literature of the American Civil Wars

    Travis M. Foster (see profile)
    LLC 19th-Century American, TM The Teaching of Literature
    American Civil War (United States , American poetry, Nineteenth century, American literature, American literature--African American authors
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    American Civil War, 19th-century American poetry, 19th-century American literature, African American literature
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    The plural, wars, of this course’s title signals two competing traditions in Civil War memory and periodization: * the Civil War as a distinct and defining event, from 1861 to 1865, that splits American history (and most English departments’ surveys of American literature) into two distinct halves; and * the Civil War as an ongoing feature of American life, which, as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “commenced not in 1861, but in 1661, when the Virginia Colony began passing America’s first black codes,” and extends into the twentieth and twenty-first century’s waves upon waves of “white terrorism.” On the one hand, a war that ended chattel slavery; on the other, a war that is more nonevent than event, restructuring rather than ameliorating the violence of antiblackness. Historical periods, as Caroline Levine reminds us, act as “bounded wholes” and “forms for organizing heterogeneous materials”; they “afford constraints and opportunities, bringing bodies, meanings, and objects into political order.” What, then, do these two competing periodizations of the Civil War bring into view and what do they obscure: about race and the legacies of enslavement; about antiblackness and white nationalism; about death and remembrance; about war and violence? And what differing historiographical methods to they demand of us as critics working to understand the significance and contexts of our texts? Over our semester, we’ll examine literary texts that address these questions, some more explicitly than others. We’ll move chronologically, beginning with texts published during the years leading up to the Battle of Fort Sumter and ending with very recent debates over Afro-Pessimism and rejections of the narrative of racial progress. Primary texts will include poetry, popular songs, short stories, novels, films, photographs, and nonfiction prose. Secondary texts will include writings in the philosophy of history, critical race theory, and the study of war.
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