American Literature From 1860

Course Description

In this class we will be exploring the history of American literature from 1860 to the present. Additionally, we will be looking at ways to quantify American literature using emerging computational tools to study these texts.

Course Overview

Note: This course is offered by the School of Letters and Sciences. For more information about the school, visit our website: If you have questions or concerns, please send your inquiry to

Following the Civil War (1861-1865), American Literature began to mature into a robust and far-reaching literary milieu, increasingly distinct from the influences of British literature, which had dominated in the colonial and post-colonial periods. Moreover, following the influence of pre-War luminaries such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allen Poe, American literature following 1860 came to exist as a distinct and influential literary force (mirroring America's rise to economic dominance).

In this course, we will study the literature of this exciting period in American history. Specifically, we will be looking at the various and multifaceted efforts on the part of American writers to define a uniquely American literary voice and, by extension, to say what being American, in an era marked by waves of immigration from foreign lands, means. The course will be roughly divided into three periods. We will first explore the legacy of literary realism in post-Civil-War America, starting with efforts to capture, glorify, and also parody, the regional eccentricities and dialects making up a rapidly modernizing American nation. From here, we will move into literary modernism, studying the effects of urbanization, mechanization, and experimentation on this understanding of American identity. We will conclude with post-modernism, a reaction against both the representational project of realism and the monocultural myth-making of the modernists.