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Organization, Regulations, and Courses 2023-24

ENGL 52.04 The American Renaissance at Dartmouth

F. O. Matthiessen coined the term “American Renaissance” in his groundbreaking book, The American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (1941). At the outset of the nineteenth century American writers struggled with a sense of cultural inferiority and artistic belatedness. The “American Renaissance” demarcates a period as well as a cultural movement marked by intense literary activity between the 1830s and 1860s that aimed at the formation of a distinctively American literature. Matthiessen restricted the American Renaissance to the years between 1850 and 1855, an “extraordinarily concentrated moment of literary expression” (vii) that saw the publication of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, House of the Seven Gables, and The Blithedale Romance; Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Representative Men; Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. In the years since the publication of Matthiessen’s important work, teachers and scholars in American literature have extended the American Renaissance’s chronological provenance at least as far back as the anti-slavery debates in the 1830s and as far forward as the termination of the Civil War. In the past several decades, Matthiessen’s argument has been challenged for its exaggeration of the originality of his coterie of male authors, for the exclusion of women and African-American and popular authors from his account of the United States during a period of remarkable social and cultural transformation, and for its seemingly uncritical acceptance of the doctrine of American exceptionalism. In light of these criticisms, scholars have added Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, Margaret Fuller, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Twain (among others) to Matthiessen’s American Renaissance pantheon.

Degree Requirement Attributes

Dist:LIT; WCult:W

Department-Specific Course Categories

Course Group II