"’The Vanishing American’ in American Literature" Syllabus

Last year, I wrote a post on the Ernest J. Gaines Center’s blog about William Apess and Daniel Webster. The post examines Apess’s and Webster’s views in regards to the date commemorating the Pilgrim’s arrival at Plymouth Rock (December 22). Today, I want to take the time to share with you a syllabus I constructed for an Early American Literature class. Entitled “The Vanishing American in American Literature,” the course examines the representation of Native Americans in texts as divergent as Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative to Albery Allson Whitman’s epic in Spenserian stanzas on the Seminole Wars. Let me know, in the comments below, what texts you may add to this syllabus and why. 



English 449: The “Vanishing American” in American Literature
Course Description:
This course will study the trope of the “Vanishing American” in eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century American literature. According to Brian W. Dippie, the “Vanishing American” myth arose from the wide held belief that Native Americans would either assimilate into white society or vanish into the frontier. People in nineteenth-century America also believed that Native Americans who came in contact with white, “civilized” society took on the vices but not the virtues of that society; “[t]o survive, the noble savage must remain uncontaminated by contact with the white race” (Dippie 25). All of the texts in this course will explore the myth of the “Vanishing American” and how it impacted American literature during its formative state in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when calls for an “American” literature echoed throughout the country. In the course, we will examine various texts that either perpetuate the myth or work to counter it. Along with this, the course will explore how the myth influenced Native American policy, specifically the Indian Removal Act. 
Texts:
  • Mary Rowlandson The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Being a Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson
  • Samson Occom A Short Narrative of My Life
  • Charles Brockden Brown Edgar Huntly: or, Memoirs of a Sleepwalker
  • James Fenimore Cooper The Pioneers: or, The Sources of the Susquehanna
  • Lydia Maria Child Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times
  • Catharine Maria Sedgwick Hope Leslie
  • Elias Boudinot Cherokee Editor: The Writings of Elias Boudinot. Ed. Theda Perdue
  • William Apess On Our Own Ground: The Complete Writings of William Apess, a Pequot. Ed. Barry O’Connell
  • Washington Irving A Tour of the Prairies
  • Staging the Nation: Plays from the American Theater, 1787-1909. Ed. Don B. Wilmeth
  • Albery Allson Whitman The Rape of Florida
Course Requirements:
  1. In this seminar, regular and substantive class participation is required. A seminar is a place for collaboration and discussion on the assigned readings and scholarly texts. Come to class prepared to ask questions and discuss topics that spark debate.
  2. Each graduate student will be required to lead class discussion for one day during the semester. The purpose of this is to provide you with pedagogical practice in leading class discussions. You will have 30-45 to lead the class on your assigned day, and you may use handouts, articles, media, or any other pedagogical tool to aid in the discussion of the day’s reading. You will be graded on: Organization, Originality, Relevance to the week’s reading(s), and Oral delivery.    
  3. Occasionally, there will be short (one to two page) written responses. The responses should follow MLA format and should focus on a specific concept or passage from the assigned reading(s).
  4. At the end of the semester, there will be a 10-12 page research paper due. The paper will be this length because I want you to submit the paper to a conference for presentation. With that in mind, you will be required to submit an appropriate CFP along with the research paper.
  5. The final exam will occur during finals week. It will consist of identifications, short responses, and a long essay.
Grading:
  • Class Discussion Day and Participation          20%
  • Short Response Papers                                    20%
  • Conference Paper                                            25%
  • Final Exam                                                      30%
Week
Texts
1 T
No Class
1 TR
Class introduction, review syllabus, historical background
2 T
Mary Rowlandson The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Being a Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson
2 TR
Continue Mary Rowlandson
3 T
Samson Occom A Short Narrative of My Life
3 TR
Charles Brockden Brown Edgar Huntly: or, Memoirs of a Sleepwalker
4 T
Continue Brockden Brown
4 TR
Washington Irving “Philip of Pokanoket” and “Traits of Indian Character”
5 T
James Fenimore Cooper The Pioneers: or, The Sources of the Susquehanna
5 TR
Continue James Fenimore Cooper
6 T
Continue James Fenimore Cooper
6 TR
Lydia Maria Child Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times
7 T
Continue Lydia Maria Child
7 TR
Catharine Maria Sedgwick Hope Leslie
8 T
Mardi Gras Holiday
8 TR
Continue Catharine Maria Sedgwick
9 T
Continue Catharine Maria Sedgwick
9 TR
Elias Boudinot selections
10 T
Continue Elias Boudinot
10 TR
Continue Elias Boudinot
11 T
John Augustus Stone Metamora; or, The Last of the Wampanoags
11 TR
Continue John Augustus Stone
12 T
John Brougham Metamora; or, The Last of the Pollywogs. A burlesque in two acts.
12 TR
William Apess a Son of the Forest
13 T
William Apess Eulogy on King Philip
13 TR
Continue William Apess
14 T
Washington Irving A Tour of the Prairies
14 TR
Continue Washington Irving
15 T
Easter/Spring Break
15 TR
Easter/Spring Break
16 T
Lydia Maria Child “Willie Wharton” and An Appeal in Favor of Indians
16 TR
Continue Lydia Maria Child
17 T
Albery Allson Whitman Twasinta’s Seminoles; or, Rape of Florida
17 TR
Continue Albery Allson Whitman
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