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Literature 3A: American Literature, 1620-1865: The American Renaissance


Admission Requirements

Successful completion of Philology 1 and 2 or equivalent.


We shall start the course by tracing American literature to its Puritan beginnings, focusing on the spiritual autobiography and the Indian captivity narrative, two Puritan genres that greatly influenced some of the later works we are reading. The main focus of the course, however, will be on the American Renaissance (1836-1861). In this era of Romantic revolution, the philosopher-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson became an important agent of cultural change and a major influence on many of his contemporaries, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and even the more critical Herman Melville. With the publication of The Scarlet Letter (1850), Moby-Dick (1851), and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), the literature of the young American nation for the first time came to rank with the classics of world literature, while Whitman and Emily Dickinson produced poems that, advanced beyond their own age, signaled the advent of modern poetry. The period also marked the beginning of an African-American literary tradition, as Frederick Douglass and other fugitive slaves published autobiographical narratives that had a great impact on black writers in the twentieth century. We shall study the authors of the American Renaissance not only in their literary-historical context, but also in the context of the political and social developments of the time, such as the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements.

Course Objectives

This course aims to give a survey of early American literature in the context of intellectual, cultural, social and political developments in American society from its colonial beginnings to the end of the Civil War. Students will be introduced to a variety of literary strategies and genres such as the spiritual autobiography that had a profound impact on American literature in later periods.


The timetable will be available from July 1 onwards on the Department website.

Mode of Instruction

One-hour lecture and a one-hour seminar per week.


Essay of 1500-2000 words (40%) and written exam (60%).


This course is supported by Blackboard. Students should sign up before the beginning of the semester.

Reading list

  • Norton Anthology of American Literature (NAAL), 7th ed., vol A and B.

  • Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Norton Critical Edition, 2nd ed.

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Penguin).


Students can register through uSis.

Register for ‘Contractonderwijs’ via:

Register for ‘À la Carte’ via:

Contact information

English Department, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103c. Phone: 071 527 2144, or mail:


Together with the introductory course “From Bradford to Obama”, this course is obligatory for students who are taking a minor in American Studies.