Peter Sands
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

 Seminar in Nineteenth-Century American Literature: Rhetoric and Representation of Otherness


This course focuses on the early national period of United States culture, roughly from the late 18th Century to the middle of the 19th Century -- the period between the Revolutionary War and the American Civil War -- and its effects on U.S. history and culture to the present day.  This period witnessed formation of a national identity, an ideology of American exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny, and a primal struggle between heliocentric white cultures and the native peoples already living here. Rhetorical strategies for representing Otherness against the developing national Self figure prominently in speeches, newspapers, broadsides, and literary culture of the period, participating in a broad network of nationalist, racialist, and exceptionalist rhetorical strategies, both constituted by and constitutive of "America."  These strategies range widely; we will consider a series of written representations by white, male, canonical writers, and conclude with a novel by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which reverses many of the terms of "discovery" and "colonization," particularly with reference to gender -- but remains deeply troubled by race.  Throughout, we will continually touch upon two important white representations of the native Other: as animals and/or as cannibals.  Our readings of the novels will be framed by an introduction to the rhetorical analysis of literary and cultural texts, and by secondary readings in imperialism, national identity formation, and rhetorical studies.

Course Goals

-- learn about rhetorical analysis of culture and texts and write some of our own
-- explore white representations of otherness and U. S. national identity formation
-- generate awareness of theory and method for American Studies

Required Materials

-- Valid UWM email account
-- Coursepack, available at Clark Graphics
-- Books, available at People's Books on Locust:
    Bird, Nick of the Woods
    Cooper, Last of the Mohicans
    Poe, Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
    Melville, Typee and Moby-Dick
    Gilman, Herland


Rather than the one-way street of lecture and reading, we will have a good deal of writing and talking amongst ourselves in the service of learning, dialogue, and interpretation.  Because of the seminar nature of the course, and the need for frequent writing and discussion, attendance will be expected, and a portion of the final grade will be earned through informal writing. I will rarely lecture or otherwise "conduct" discussion in class.  This means that it is incumbent upon each of you to engage material critically, and to make significant contributions to discussions, whether conducted face-to-face or via email.  You are expected to puzzle over, worry at, think upon, write about, and otherwise actively engage the material rather than simply imbibing it.  Plan to participate vigorously and with respect for the ideas of others, the newness of the material to everyone, and the need for patience, patience, patience.

Discussion Responsibilities

Beginning with the fifth week of the semester, each student will be responsible for leading short discussions of readings. It should work out that each student leads discussion twice during the semester; we will usually have two presenters each day.

On your day, you are responsible for:

-- beginning and moderating discussion but not for all the talking! Remember to  emphasize both positives and negatives.
    Show a little humility! Under no circumstances should presentations follow a "what's wrong with X" model.
-- providing copies of one relevant article. If you get it to me at least one week in advance I will provide the copies.
-- providing an additional list of at least five other sources you are ready to summarize or describe to the class. Include short
    notes on the articles if you wish. This list should also be EMAILED to Dr. Sands.

Required Writing

This writing must be completed on time to count toward your grade.  No late work will be accepted under any circumstances. Each of the informal writing tasks should take you about 20-30 minutes.  If you regularly take more time, please meet with me!

Please take the informal writing as a serious obligation from which you can reap great rewards.  At the same time, practice seeing it as a low-stakes ways of thinking your way into and through problems, to generate discussion, and to test your ideas before committing them to full arguments in your major project.  Try ideas out, think implications through, throw them out for discussion, but worry more about content than form!

--  weekly discussion prompt (250-500 words max; bring two copies to class)
Bring to each class meeting one or two pages of writing about the reading for the week.  If we are reading more than one piece that week, choose ONE or TWO (if you're connecting their ideas).  This can be in part summary, but should be mostly response, analysis, and synthesis.  You should demonstrate familiarity and engagement with the reading by referring directly to the texts.  Try for something that provokes class discussion.

--  e-letters to a partner (1/week, cc to; 250-500 words max)
Once a week, correspond with a partner, with copies to me, via email. These letters must be completed by 5 p.m. on Friday, beginning the first week, but can be done at any time during the week. In the very first message, write your partner a letter which poses a question that puzzles you or works through a response to whatever we are reading or discussing.  In each of the following letters, both respond to your partner's last letter and add new questions or commentary of your own.  You may write more than one letter a week, but be sure to avoid overloading each other.  Be sure to cite texts appropriately and work toward possible paper topics in your letters.

--  bi-weekly electronic reflection (250-500 words max; see handout)
Post one reflective message to the class email address every other week (, beginning with the second week. Begin with anything relevant to the course: a response to class discussion, a question about something you've read or written, an observation, a position statement on issues raised by the texts or discussion, but concentrate on summarizing and reflecting on what you've learned in class or while writing lately.

--  1 short annotated bibliography (5 pages), and project proposal (2 pages).
Due date TBA

--  1 research project suitable for conference presentation (about ten pages)
Due date TBA


Your grades will be determined by averaging your grade for informal writing and your grade for formal writing,  with consideration given to attendance and participation.

Formal writing assignments will be graded A-F, based on my judgment of the originality, thoroughness, quality and insight in the work.

Informal writing will be assessed with a contract-grading system that emphasizes evidence of continued engagement with the materials of the course as scholars.  Contract-grading gives students ample wiggle room to try out their ideas without committing their grades to a single piece of work.  After all, no one is perfect all the time: consistency is a better measure.  The amount and variety of writing gives teachers a broader and more accurate picture of student learning.  It aids students by structuring learning throughout the term and building good scholarship habits.

Here's how it works.  I will mark each of the informal assignments Acceptable or Unacceptable.  An Acceptable grade is for a piece which stays on-task and which shows active engagement with the text/task.  An Unacceptable grade is for handwritten, sloppy, rushed, or careless work, work that is difficult to read because of grammatical or mechanical errors, or work that makes significant factual or logical errors.  Under no circumstances will a late paper be Acceptable.  Careless work -- work that is clearly rushed, shows little reflection, or is factually inaccurate -- will be graded Unacceptable.  Careful work, showing reflection and effort, will be Acceptable.

85% or more Acceptables = A
70-85% Acceptables = B
60-70% Acceptables = C
50-60% Acceptables = D
Less than 50% Acceptables = F

Participation by Students with Disabilities and Accommodation for Religious Observances

Please contact me if you need special accommodations to meet any of the requirements of this course.  Students will be allowed to complete requirements that are missed because of a religious observance.


We will cover a good deal of the readings, but some are too long for in-depth discussion and others are intended as background.  Should we get sidetracked or otherwise engaged, we'll adjust the schedule as needed.  The readings are in alphabetical order by author in your coursepack; a full list follows this schedule.

The schedule for the first four weeks is loosely constructed and organized by different areas of theory, research and practice we will be working on in addition to the primary texts.  As a general rule after the first few weeks, I will expect students to take the lead in class discussion.  For example, I would prefer to let student research projects drive our meetings for least one-third of the semester, but I recognize that we also have to balance those with covering the materials.  Accordingly, although the units will remain constant, and the first month is pretty much set, the rest of the schedule is open to change, depending on our pace and the interests of the group.

Please skim widely in the coursepack over the first week in order to make suggestions for class discussion and activities. I will make assignments for discussion based on those suggestions from YOU.

24 -- Introductions; statements of purpose; syllabus; Q&A about readings
31 -- Rhetorical Theory and Method: Covino and Jolliffe, Bitzer, Krupat, Churchill; Fisher; Said; Coward

7 -- Literary History and Theory: Mailloux; Armstrong and Tennenhouse; Bracken; Stratton; Tompkins
14 -- Race, Representation, and Cultural Encounters: Greene; Slotkin; Horsman; Scheckel; Mizruchi; Arac; Berkhofer;
            Cassuto; Meyer; Motohashi; Sheehan; Wertheimer; Campbell
21 and 28 -- Cooper

6 and 13 -- Bird
20 -- Spring Break: no class
27 -- Poe

3 and 10 -- Melville (Typee); Project Proposals and bibliographies due
17 and 24 -- Melville (Moby-Dick)

1 -- Gilman
8 -- Wrapping up: Torgovnick; Projects due


Arac, Jonathan, and Harriet Ritvo. "Introduction."  Macropolitics of Nineteenth-Century Literature: Nationalism, Exoticism, Imperialism.  Philadelphia: U Pennsylvania Press, 1991. 1-11.

Armstrong, Nancy, and Leonard Tennenhouse, Ed. "Introduction: Representing Violence, or 'How the West Was Won'."  The Violence of Representation: Literature and the History of Violence.  NY: Routledge, 1989. 1-26.

Berkhofer, Jr., Robert. "The Idea of the Indian: Invention and Perpetuation." The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present.  NY: Vintage, 1979. 3-31.

Bitzer, Lloyd, ed.  "The Rhetorical Situation."  Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries.  Ed. William A. Covino, and David Jolliffe.  Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995. 300-10.

Bracken, Christopher. "Folding."  The Potlatch Papers: A Colonial Case History.  Chicago: University of Chicago, 1997. 5-31.

Campbell, Rev. Thomas Joseph, S. J.  "Introduction: The Pioneers." Pioneer Priests of North America: 1642-1710.  New York: America Press, 1913. ix-xvi.

Cassuto, Leonard.  "The Puritans and Their Indians: Making a Human Monster, and Vice Versa."  The Inhuman Race: The Racial Grotesque in American Literature.  NY: Columbia University, 1997. 3-74.

Churchill, Ward. "Literature as a Weapon in the Colonization of the American Indian."  Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema, and the Colonization of American Indians.  Monroe, ME: Common Courage, 1992. 17-41.

Covino, William A., and David Jolliffe, ed.  "What is Rhetoric?" Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries.  Ed.  William A. Covino and David Jolliffe. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995. 3-26.

Coward, John M.  "Discovery, Destiny, and Savagery: Imagining Indians in America."  The Newspaper Indian: Native American Identity in the Press, 1820-90.  Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 1999. 23-42.

---.  "Introduction: Indians, Ideology, and the Press."  The Newspaper Indian: Native American Identity in the Press, 1820-90. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 1999. 1-22.

Fisher, Philip. "Introduction: The New American Studies."  The New American Studies: Essays from Representations. Berkeley: U California, 1991. vii-xxii.

Greene, Jack P. "Explanations: Revolution and Redefinition, 1774-1800." The Intellectual Construction of America: Exceptionalism and Identity from 1492 to 1800.  Chapel Hill: U NC P, 1993. 162-99.

---.  "Prologue."  The Intellectual Construction of America: Exceptionalism and Identity from 1492 to 1800.  Chapel Hill: U NC P, 1993. 1-7.

Horsman, Reginald.  "The Other Americans."  Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1981. 98-115.

---.  "Providential Nation."  Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1981. 81-97.

 Krupat, Arnold.  "Figures and the Law: Rhetorical Readings of Congressional and Cherokee Texts."  Ethnocriticism: Ethnography, History, Literature.  Berkeley: University of California, 1992. 129-72.

Mailloux, Steven.  "Articulation and Understanding."  Reception Histories: Rhetoric, Pragmatism, and American Cultural Politics.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1998. 3-19.

---.  "Rhetoric, Theory, and Politics."  Rhetorical Power.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1989. 133-49.

---.  "Rhetorical Hermeneutics."  Rhetorical Power.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1989. 3-18.

Meyer, Melissa L.  "American Indian Blood Quantum Requirements: Blood is Thicker Than Family." Over the Edge: Remapping the American West.  Ed.  Valerie J. Matsumoto and Blake Allmendinger. Berkeley: University of California, 1999. 231-49.

Mizruchi, Susan L. "Sacrificial Arts and Sciences."  The Science of Sacrifice: American Literature and Modern Social Theory. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998. 25-88.

Motohashi, Ted. "The Discourse of Cannibalism in Early Modern Travel Writing."  Travel Writing and Empire. Ed.  Steve Clark. NY: Zed Books, 1999. 83-99.

Said, Edward W.  "Introduction."  Orientalism.  NY: Oxford, 1978. 1-28.

Scheckel, Susan. "The 'Indian Problem' and the Question of National Identity."  The Insistence of the Indian: Race and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century American Culture.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998. 3-14.

Sheehan, Bernard W. "Bestiality."  Savagism and Civility: Indians and Englishmen in Colonial Virginia.  NY: Cambridge, 1980. 65-88.

---. "Introduction."  Savagism and Civility: Indians and Englishmen in Colonial Virginia.  NY: Cambridge, 1980. 1-8.

Slotkin, Richard. "Exposition: The Frontier as Myth and Ideology." The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890.  NY: Harper, 1985. 3-12.

---. "The Frontier Myth as a Theory of Development."  The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890.  NY: Harper, 1985. 33-47.

---.  "Myth and Historical Memory."  The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890. NY: Harper, 1985. 13-32.

Stratton, John. "The Colonial Other."  Writing Sites: A Genealogy of the Postmodern World.  NY: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990. 136-77.

Tompkins, Jane.  "'Indians': Texualism, Morality, and the Problem of History."  "Race," Writing, and Difference.  Ed. Jr. Henry Louis Gates. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1986. 59-77.

Torgovnick, Marianna. "New American Indian/New American White." Primitive Passions: Men, Women and the Quest for Ecstasy.  NY: Knopf, 1997. 135-55.

Wertheimer, Eric. "Introduction: Ancient America in the Post-Colonial National Imaginary."  Imagined Empires: Incas, Aztecs, and the New World of American Literature, 1771-1876.  NY: Cambridge, 1998. 1-16.