Department of English

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396-001 Literature and History: The American Antislavery Movement

396-001 Literature and History: The American Antislavery Movement

Instructor: Don Dingledine

Description:

“Living in a nation of people who decided that their world view would combine agendas for individual freedom and mechanisms for devastating racial oppression,” Toni Morrison has suggested, “presents a singular landscape for a writer.” We will explore this unique American landscape by studying the history of the antislavery movement alongside the literature it produced—a body rich with examples of what Morrison calls “the inadequacy and the force of the imaginative act.” Abolition brought a diverse mix of Americans—male and female, black and white, rich and poor, northern and southern, free and enslaved—together around a shared goal. How to achieve that goal, however, was the subject of heated debate. Was violence justifiable, or must words be the only weapons of protest and reform? Could fiction pose an effective challenge to the “facts” of race and racial difference used to justify slavery? As we examine the relationship between historical memory and our literary heritage, we will also consider how both might influence thoughts and actions in the present. Can representations of slavery and freedom in our shared past shape our ability to imagine, as well as to create, a just and equitable future for all?

 

Possible readings include David Walker, Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829); Lydia Maria Child, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833) and “Slavery’s Pleasant Homes” (1843); Lucy Stanton, “A Plea for the Oppressed” (1850); Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly (1852); William Wells Brown, Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter (1853); Frederick Douglass, “The Heroic Slave” (1852) and “Letter to His Old Master” (1855); Henry David Thoreau, “A Plea for Captain John Brown” (1860); and Frances E. W. Harper, “To the Union Savers of Cleveland” (1861).

 

NOTE: This course fulfills Area D, Group 1: Cultural Studies. With permission of the English Department, it can alternatively fulfill Area A, Group 2: The American Literary Tradition.

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