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The American Renaissance (1800 – 1870). European Renaissance (rebirth of arts and learning): 14 th , 15 th ,and 1 6 th century American Renaissance (not a “rebirth” but a first flowering): first half of 19 th century) Two major events: 1. capital moved to Washington, D.C.

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European Renaissance (rebirth of arts and learning): 14th, 15th,and 16th century

  • American Renaissance (not a “rebirth” but a first flowering): first half of 19th century)
  • Two major events:

1. capital moved to Washington, D.C.

2. foundation of the Library of Congress (first cultural institution in the capital)

  • Thomas Jefferson – Louisiana Purchase of 1803 (doubled the territory of the US)
  • Improved transportation: canals, turnpikes, railroads, steamboats
  • California became US territory (1848)
  • Gold Rush of 1849
  • New industries, new kinds of jobs (more productive farming)
  • Telegraph– improved communication across the US
  • 1828 – Andrew Jackson - “The People’s President”
  • The “era of the common man” – no more property requirement for voting
  • Only white males allowed to vote
  • Little attention paid to women
  • African-Americans still enslaved
  • Native Americans – tribal lands confiscated; forced to move to the West
  • Texas becomes territory of the US (1845)
  • Conflict over slavery leads to civil war
what is the relationship between place property and literature
What is the relationship between place (property) and literature?
  • Vast land: open prairies in the Midwest
  • deserts in the SE
  • immense forests in the NW
  • great canyons and mountains in the W
  • Oceans on both sides
  • Countless natural resources
  • Spirit of acquisition, pride of ownership
  • Exploration led to exploitation
  • Limitless possibilities


  • Explorers recorded facts of their expeditions in colorful words and drawings
  • Fiction writers (Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper) - created an American mythology by setting stories in forests and towns of the American landscape
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – narrative poems : colonial Americans, Native Americans, and Revolutionary War heroes within the American wilderness
the american masters
The American Masters
  • Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville – dark side of wilderness
  • Transcendentalists:

Ralph Emerson, Henry D. Thoreau – emphasized nature’s sublimity

how does literature shape or reflect society
How does literature shape or reflect society?
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe - antislavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (national and international phenomenon)
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow– best-selling poet in the English language
what did the american writers want to achieve what is their purpose for writing
What did the American writers want to achieve?(What is their purpose for writing?)

The social vision:

  • Lectures, essays, speeches, debates, pamphlets, editorials, songs – women’s rights, slavery, treatment of the Native Americans, land use, immigration, trade, taxes
  • Americans to define their own self
  • The Romantic vision:

Directly in contrast to the Age of Reason

      • While rationalists saw the move to the big city a move toward success, romantics saw it as a place of moral decay, corruption, and death
      • Individual freedom
      • Individual quest for self-discovery
      • Nature’s beauty as a path to spiritual and moral development
      • Journey led to the countryside
      • Youthful innocence vs. sophisticated education
i s of romanticism
I’s of Romanticism
  • intuition
  • imagination
  • innocence
  • inspiration from supernatural and from nature
  • inner experience

A Transcendental Vision:

  • Thoreau and Emerson - 1830’s and 1840’s
  • Individual - center of the universe, more powerful than any political or religious institution
  • Thoreau’s Walden