Matthew P. Brown
Northern Illinois University

Cultural Studies and Early American Texts


"Cultural studies" names a line of inquiry interested in the politics of culture, the sociology of media, and the reception of texts.  Responsive to many of the changes in theoretical and practical analysis in the humanities from the 1960s to 1990s and derived from a number of disciplines, cultural studies has become especially of interest to interdisciplinary research and teaching in English departments.  This seminar will examine cultural studies as an intellectual movement. We will consider its methods and results, and test its techniques of analysis with reference to the culture of early America. Class members will explore the origins of this movement in theoretical writings of the U.K.'s "Birmingham school" and of the American Studies tradition.  Cultural studies has been keenly interested in audience, and the course will survey reader-based approaches (including genre theory, reception aesthetics, reader-response, and book history).  Since cultural studies has been shaped by the insights of race-, class-, ethnicity- and sex/gender-based theories of representation, the course will examine texts through these prisms. And because cultural studies has foregrounded the role of colonialism, empire, and nation-building in the politics of culture, we will investigate the use of postcolonial approaches to these topics.  The course will familiarize students with major genres, texts, and issues in early American culture, and it will introduce students to the relevance of cultural studies approaches to the early modern period (roughly 1500-1800).  As cultural studies is often associated with analyses of later periods, the course will give students tools relevant to other research and teaching interests as well.


Richards, Jeffrey H., ed. Early American Drama.
Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar Nunez. Castaways (U of California P).
Andrews, William, ed. Journeys in New Worlds.
Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography (Norton).
Paine, Thomas. Common Sense (Dover).
Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative . . . (Penguin).
Rowson, Susannah. Charlotte Temple.


 A good portion of the course reading is on reserve, either in book form or as a photocopy.  You are responsible for these materials in class, so copy them, place them in a secure binder, and bring them to our meetings.  The daily schedule distinguishes between book reserves and xerox reserves; depending on the piece, you may need to locate book reserves by the book's editor or author or by the book title, rather than the essay author's name or essay title.  Other secondary readings will be distributed as hand-outs in class.


1. Attendance, preparation, and informed participation.

2. Oral report and discussion leading: each student will be in charge of one (1) class meeting during the semester. Your responsibilities are to present a summary analysis of the secondary readings and to generate study questions that lead out of the assigned secondary and primary readings (10-15 minutes). The study questions are to be posted on email to all class members and the instructor no later than 6 p.m. on the Monday before our Tuesday meetings.

3. Book review or lesson plan. Early in the semester you will hand in either a book review of an important secondary work in early American cultural studies or a lesson plan for teaching  a primary text of early American literature (a text not included on the syllabus). Book titles will be recommended; if you have particular interests, see me to arrange a title that best suits your focus. The lesson plan will be designed for 1st or 2nd year college students (or advanced high schoolers) and will require secondary research and a brief bibliography. It is to cover a week's worth of teaching and is to be informed by cultural studies approaches.

4. Seminar paper, prepared in steps:

1) a tentative thesis, with study questions and a list of relevant references, due in early November.

2) an oral presentation of research findings, to be delivered in our final meetings.

3) a formal seminar paper of at least 20 pp., due the final day of classes.

Participation and discussion leading (15%)
Book review/lesson plan (10%)
Seminar paper (75%)

(+b) = Reserve Reading - Book  (+x) = Reserve Reading - Xerox  (*) = Hand-out

Aug. 29  Introduction

Doing Cultural Studies

Sep. 5

Smith, John. From The General Historie . . . and Advertisements . . .   In. The Heath Anthology
    of American Literature. Eds. Paul Lauter, et. al. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath,
    1998. 186-98. (+b)
Barker, James Nelson. The Indian Princess. (in Richards)
Young, Neil. "Pocahontas." (*)
Allen, Paula Gunn. "Pocahontas to Her English Husband, John Rolfe." Life is a Fatal Disease:
    Collected Poems, 1962-95. Albequerque: West End P, 1997. 6-7. (*)
Pocahontas. Walt Disney Productions. Film screening TBA

Marx, Leo. "American Studies: A Defense of an Unscientific Method." Public Opinion and
    Historians: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Ed. Melvin Small. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1970.
    113-27. (*)

Cultural Theory

Sep. 12

Momaday, N. Scott. "The Native Voice." Columbia Literary History of the United States. Ed.
    Emory Elliott. New York: Columbia UP, 1988. 5-15. (+x)
White, Hayden. "The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality." The Content of the
    Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP,
    1987. 1-25. (+b)
Hall, Stuart. "Some Paradigms in Cultural Studies." Annali 21.3 (1978): 13-48. (+x)
Clifford, James. "On Ethnographic Allegory." Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of
    Ethnography. Eds. James Clifford and George E. Marcus. U of California P, 1986. 98-121.
Jauss, Hans Robert. From "Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory." Toward an
    Aesthetic of Reception. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1982. 18-36. (+b)

Columbus, Christopher. In Lauter, ed. Heath Anthology. 116-28 (+b)
Handsome Lake. In Lauter, ed. Heath Anthology. 182-84. (+b)

Postcolonial Criticism and Amerindian Expression

Sep. 19

Murray, David. Forked Tongues: Speech, Writing, and Representation in North American
    Indian Texts. London: Pinter, 1990. 1-4. (*)
Tompkins, Jane. "Indians: Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History."  Race, Writing, and
    Difference. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986. 59-77. (+b)
Jehlen, Myra. "Why Did the Europeans Cross the Ocean?: A Seventeenth-Century Riddle."
    Cultures of United States Imperialism. Eds. Amy Kaplan and Donald Pease. Durham: Duke
    UP, 1993. 41-58. (+b)
Bhabha, Homi K. "Postcolonial Criticism." Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of
    English and American Studies. Eds. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn.  NY: Modern
    Language Association, 1992. 437-65. (+b)

Petrone, Penny, ed. First People, First Voices. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1983. 1-29. (+b)
Champlain, Samuel de. In Lauter, ed. Heath Anthology. 173-78.(+b)

Colonialist Encounters: The Travel Writing of Cabeza de Vaca

Sep. 26

Pratt, Mary Louise. "Fieldwork in Common Places." Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics
    of Ethnography. Ed. James Clifford and George Marcus. Berkeley: U of California P, 1986.
    27-50. (+b)
Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar Nunez. Castaways.
Genre Criticism and the Captivity Narrative

Oct. 3

Miller, Carolyn. "Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre." Genre and the New
    Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor & Francis, 1994. 67-77.
Moretti, Franco. From Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms.
    London: Verso, 1997. 1-21. (+b)

Rowlandson, Mary. "A True History of the Captivity and Restoration . . ." (in Andrews)
Compare Rowlandson to Smith and Cabeza de Vaca as captivity narratives.

DUE: Book Review or Lesson Plan

Women's Writing and Difference

Oct. 10

Friedman, Susan Stanford. "Women's Autobiographical Selves: Theory and Practice." Women,
    Autobiography, Theory: A Reader. Ed. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. Madison: U of
    Wisconsin P, 1998. 72-82. (+b)

Knight, Sarah Kemble. "The Journal of Madam Knight." (in Andrews)
Ashbridge, Elizabeth. "Some Account of the Fore Part . . ." (in Andrews)

Sociologies of the Text I.: William Byrd, Manuscript Culture, and the Sex/Gender System

Oct. 17
Rubin, Gayle. "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex." Toward an
    Anthropology of Women. Ed. Rayna R. Reiter. NY: Monthly Review, 1975. 157-210. (+b)
Shields, David. From "British American Belles Lettres." Cambridge History of American
    Literature, Vol. 1: 1590-1820. Ed. Sacvan Bercovitch. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.
    309-33. (+b)

Byrd, William. From "The History of the Dividing Line" and "The Secret History of the Line" In
    Lauter, ed. Heath Anthology. 548-67. (+b)

Sociologies of the Text II.: Benjamin Franklin, Print Culture, and the Public Sphere

Oct. 24
Calhoun, Craig. From "Introduction." Habermas and the Public Sphere. Ed. Craig Calhoun.
    Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1992. 1-9. (+b)
Warner, Michael. "Preface" and "The Cultural Mediation of the Print Medium." The Letters of the
    Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America. Cambridge:
    Harvard UP, 1990. ix-xiii, 1-33. (+b)

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography.

Public Spheres in the Early Republic

Oct. 31

Fraser, Nancy. "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing
    Democracy." Habermas and the Public Sphere. Ed. Craig Calhoun. Cambridge, MA: MIT P,
    1992. 109-42. (+b)

Paine, Thomas. Common Sense.
Murray, Judith Sargent. In Lauter, ed. Heath Anthology. 1050-64.
Apess, William. In Lauter, ed. Heath Anthology. 1866-72.
Boudinot, Elias. In Lauter, ed. Heath Anthology. 1878-87.

Olaudah Equiano as Test Case

Nov. 7

Equiano, The Interesting Narrative . . .

DUE: Thesis / Bibliography / Questions

Theater and Self-Fashioning in the Early Nation

Nov. 14

Goffman, Erving. From "Performance." The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. NY: Anchor
    Books, 1959. 17-51. (+b)
Tyler, Royal. The Contrast. (in Richards)
Brooks, Peter. "Melodrama, Body, Revolution." Melodrama: Stage Picture Screen. Eds. Jacky
    Bratton, Jim Cook, and Christine Gledhill. London: British Film Institute, 1994. 11-25. (+x)
Dunlap, William. Andre. (in Richards)
Readership Studies

Nov. 21

Hall, David. "Readers and Reading in America: Historical and Critical Perspectives." Cultures of
    Print: Essay in the History of the Book. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1996. 169-87. (+b)
Davidson, Cathy. Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. NY: Oxford UP,
    1986. 3-14, 39-54. (+b)

Rowson, Charlotte Temple.

Nov. 28  Presentations

Dec. 5  Presentations / Wrap up TBA

Dec. 11-Dec. 16: Final exams