Eric Wertheimer
Arizona State University West

        Gold-bugs and Birthmarks: Money and Commerce in Early American Writing

"But there's no doubt but money is to the fore now.  It is the romance, the
poetry, of our age.  It's the thing that chiefly strikes the imagination."
       --Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham

How did Howells's statement come to be so telling?  How has literature described the world of money and commerce?  Can the world accommodate both beauty and money?

This course will attempt to answer those questions--and raise new ones--in its reading of works, from primarily the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, that engage more or less directly the ideas of aesthetic and monetary value in American life (in all its diversity).  Critical theory and economic
theory will coexist in our inquiry.  This approach may be of particular interest and use to students who feel too business-focussed to find time for reading literature; indeed, a professional, business, or economics background will serve you well.

Vital Information:

This class will be heavily discussion-oriented.  There will be times when I will do "mini-lectures," but I expect each student to be ready for contributing insights and thoughtful questions at each class session. My style is to encourage critical thinking about the history and the texts we read--which means I put a lot of power in your hands.  Use that power to ask hard questions and attempt difficult answers.

 I ask that you write, in addition to the final paper, two "position" papers, taking up a controversy, theme, word, line, comparison--whatever in the readings or discussions you feel compelled to
say something substantive about.  Position papers are not complicated--take a position and say why you took it.  They are short--1 page only--and they must be single-spaced.  They are your chance to be fearless with your ideas, to try things out.  [For more about position papers see attached
hand-out]. Note the due dates for these papers.  The final paper--no less than 8 pages and no more than 10--should reflect a point of departure reached in one of your short papers or in a class discussion that particularly intrigued you.  It may make use of critical resources (a plus, in any event), but it doesn't have to; that is, it can be a free-standing interpretation in its own right.

I ask also that you do a short archival research project, which simply means that you must work with microforms from the American Antiquarian Society and summarize the possible importance of the assigned texts to our broader inquiry.  We'll discuss this further in class. You will be responsible for an in-class presentation which simply means that you will guide class discussion based on a point of dispute or on the development of an argument about a particular text/topic. Your presentation, along with your final paper, should incorporate some visible sign that you've thought about further avenues of research.  The presentation will be graded as follows:


1. background library research,
2. a thematic, issue-oriented take on the author/text,
3. initiated a lively and fruitful discussion.

B--demonstrates only 2 of the above criteria.

C--demonstrates only 1 of the above criteria.

The primary texts we will use are:
The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Vol. I
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe
Life in the Iron Mills
Sister Carrie

To summarize:
--Class attendance, preparation, and participation. (10% of grade)
--2 three page, double-spaced papers (20% of grade)
--a short research assignment, working with archives (10% of grade)
--Final paper (30% of grade)
--Responsibility for leading class discussion on a given topic/text (30% of

Schedule of Reading:

                             God's Risky Coin:  Seventeenth Century Writing

Wed. Jan 21:  Introduction

Week of Jan 26:  Establishing Cross-cultural value:
Roger Williams: Chapters XXIV-XXVI: "Concerning their Coyne," "Of buying and Selling" "Of Debts and Trusting"; "Of their gaming &c." Chapter XXVIII from A Key into the Language of America

Week of Feb. 2:  Feminine Piety in the Cash Nexus:
Anne Bradstreet:  "To Her Father with some Verses,"  "Here Followes some verses upon the burning of our House...," "The Flesh and the Spirit,"  "The Vanity of all Worldly things"

Week of Feb. 9:  The Value of Writing:
Michael Wigglesworth:  "A Song of Emptiness to Fill Up the Empty Pages Following"
John Danforth:  "Profit and Loss"; "A Few Lines to Fill up a Vacant PAGE"
Henricus Selyns:  "On Mercenary and Unjust Bailiffs," "Upon the Bankruptcy of a Physician"

Week of Feb. 16:  Edward Taylor: selected Meditations

The National Currency:  Paper and Property

Week of Feb. 23:  Race and Property:
Phillis Wheatley:  selected poems; Wertheimer (!) "Phillis Wheatley and the Loss of Property

Week of March 2:  Public Man, Wealthy Man:
Franklin:  Poor Richard's Almanack, "The Way to Wealth," The Autobiography

Week of March 9:  Marriage, Theatre, and Counterfeits:
Royall Tyler: "The Contrast"; Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, "The Horse Swap"; Irving: "the Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Week of March 16:  SPRING BREAK

Perverse Purses: Ante-Bellum America

Week of March 23:  Speculative Critique:
Poe:  "The Gold-bug,"  "The Business Man,"  "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Man of the Crowd,"  "Never Bet the Devil Your Head"

Week of March 30: Transcendent Economies:
Emerson:  "Nature," "Self-Reliance," "Compensation"

Week of April 6:  Henry David Thoreau:  Walden

Week of April 13:  Devilish Capitalism:
Hawthorne: "The Birth-mark"; Melville:  "Bartleby the Scrivener" "Lightning Rod Man"  "Paradise of Bachelors/Tartarus of the Maids"

Week of April 20: Wage Labor, Slave Labor:
Frederick Douglass: Narrative of the Life

More Modern Money: Labor, Art, and Death

Week of April 27:  Wage Labor and the Female Pen:
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper:  "The Two Offers" "Free Labor"; Rebecca Harding Davis:  "Life in the Iron Mills"

Week of May 4:  Chasing Money:
Theodore Dreiser:  Sister Carrie