American Literature and Landscape

Professor: Dr. Tom Kinnahan
Institution: Duquesne University
Course Number: English 549


Spring 2008



Welcome English 549: American Literature and Landscape. Subtitled “Space, Place, and Identity,” this course will survey representations of the American landscape in a wide range of literary texts, with occasional forays into artistic and scientific discourses as well.

We will focus on modes of geographic perception and literary representation, exploring the intersections of nature and culture in a variety of landscapes and literary contexts. Our emphasis will be on notions of wilderness, the frontier, and the “middle ground” of American pastoralism, but we’ll be attentive to urban and suburban landscapes as well. We’ll examine both the aesthetic and ideological dimensions of how these landscapes are represented in American fiction, poetry, and non-fiction prose, with particular attention to the relationship between landscape and identity.

Our reading list will emphasize colonial and nineteenth-century texts, although several twentieth-century works will be included. We will also briefly survey canonical critical texts by Henry Nash Smith, Leo Marx, Phillip Fisher, Annette Kolodny, Roderick Nash, Myra Jehlen, Lawrence Buell and others.



Rowlandson, Mary. The Account of Mary Rowlandson and Other Indian Captivity Narratives. Horace Kephart, ed. New York: Dover, 2005.

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers. New York: Oxford UP, 2000.

Kirkland, Carolyn.  A New Home, Who’ll Follow. Ed. Susan Zagarell New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1990.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden, Civil Disobedience, and Other Writings, 3rd ed. (Norton Critical Edition). Edited by William Rossi. New York: Norton, 2007.

Powell, J.W. The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its     Canyons. New York, Dover.

Cather, Willa. O Pioneers!: Norton Critical Edition. New York: Norton, 2007.

Faulkner, William. Go Down, Moses. New York: Vintage, 1991.

Pollan, Michael. Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education. New York: Dell, 1991.

Course packs I and II (the second course pack will be available around midterm)


Critical essay (5-7 pp.)                                                 15%

Weekly journal (2-3 pp. Each)                                       30%

Course paper (15-20 pp.)                                              50%

Presentation of critical article  (5-10 min.)                        5%


The critical essay will address a focused critical issue or problem in one of the texts from our pre-midterm reading list. I am primarily interested in your interpretation of the text or texts you choose to write about, so no research is required. However, feel free to includebrief references to critical sources or other outside material to focus or contextualize your analysis if you wish. The essay will be due no later than Feb. 28.

The journal is a series of 2-3 page informal papers that respond to one or more of the texts assigned each week. The papers should reflect careful reading and thoughtful engagement with the texts, but they need not follow a traditional thesis-driven format. In other words, feel free to speculate, explore ideas, and raise questions if you wish. Further details about the journal will be discussed in class.

The course paper will be an extended critical analysis that develops a clearly stated thesis. You will be asked to draw upon authoritative critical sources in developing your argument. While you may select your own topic, I ask that you develop a brief written proposal and discuss your topic with me in advance. The written proposal should consist of a paragraph or two in which you describe the focus and scope of your project, along with a tentative thesis or research question. If you wish, you may include a very brief, informal outline, but that is not required. The due date for the proposal will be announced in class; the paper itself will be due during our scheduled exam period, when you will give an informal overview of your paper to your classmates and me.

Finally, once during the semester you’ll be asked to provide a brief, informal presentation of a critical article or book chapter that directly addresses one of the texts or issues under discussion on the day of your talk. You may simply summarize and respond to the article or chapter, with questions and discussion to follow. Please talk to us, using an outline or note cards, rather than reading from a paper.



Although I will often provide orienting remarks and background information on our readings (the ever-popular  “mini-lecture”), most class meetings will be structured around group discussion, so please come to class ready to assume an active role. Towards these ends, please annotate your texts carefully and select at least one passage that you feel deserves focused attention. This might be a passage you find particularly interesting, revealing, troubling, perplexing, etc. From time to time, you’ll be asked to identify and briefly discuss the passage or passages you’ve selected (this will be very informal).

We will also focus many of our discussions on topics raised in your journals, so please have those handy during class time.

Good luck with your coursework this semester!


* * * 

Reserves for English 549: American Literature and Landscape



  • Ch. 1, “Pastoral Ideology” in The Environmental Imagination, Lawrence Buell (Harvard UP, 1995)
  • Ch. 1, “Old World Roots of Opinion” in Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Nash (Harvard UP, 1967,1983)
  • Ch. 1, “Sleepy Hollow, 1844” in The Machine in the Garden, Leo Marx (Oxford UP, 1964)
  • Ch. 2, “Surveying the Virgin Land” in The Lay of the Land, Annette Kolodny (U of North Carolina P, 1975)
  • Ch. 4, “Israel in Babylon” in Regeneration Through Violence, Richard Slotkin (Wesleyan UP, 1973)
  • Prologue, “18th-Century Origins,” in Virgin Land, Henry Nash Smith (Harvard UP, 1950)


Book reserves

  • The Environmental Imagination, Lawrence Buell (Harvard UP, 1995)
  • Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Nash (Harvard UP, 1983)
  • The Machine in the Garden, Leo Marx (Oxford UP, 1964)
  • The Lay of the Land, Annette Kolodny (U of North Carolina P, 1975)
  • Regeneration Through Violence, Richard Slotkin (Wesleyan UP, 1973)
  • Virgin Land, Henry Nash Smith (Harvard UP, 1950)

Reading Schedule: American Landscape and Literature


I: January 10 Course introduction


II: January 17 “Expectations of Eden”: Early Exploration in the New World

Course pack: Both clusters from “Groundwork” and selections from “Exploration, Colonization and the Early Republic” (“New Spain,” Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Cabeza de Vaca, Perez de Villagra); “Selections from Native American Writers” (Handsome Lake, “How America Was Discovered” and “Creation of the Whites”); “Bonus Track” (Flip Wilson, “Christopher Columbus”)


Handouts: Arthur Barlowe, from First Voyage to Virginia; Michael Drayton, “Ode to the Virginian Voyage”


Electronic reserve: Kolodny, “Surveying the Virgin Land” (from The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters) and Roderick Nash, “Old World Roots of Opinion” (from Wilderness and the American Mind)

III: January 24 “Errand in the Wilderness”: Puritans in the Promised Land

Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God…Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson


Course pack: William Bradford, Thomas Morton


Handouts: Roderick Nash, “A Wilderness Condition” (from Wilderness and the American Mind); critical excerpts from Perry Miller, Andrew Delbanco, others


Electronic reserve: Richard Slotkin, “Israel in Babylon: The Archetype of the Captivity Narrative” (from Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1800)



IV: January 31 Pastoralism and Agrarianism in the “Republic of Virtue”

Course pack: From “Exploration, Colonization, and the Early Republic” (Byrd, Crevecoeur, “Agrarianism,” Freneau, and Dwight)


Handouts: Thomas Jefferson, Query VI, XI, and XIX from Notes on the State of Virginia and selected letters; Leo Marx, from The Machine in the Garden


Electronic reserve: Henry Nash Smith, “Prologue: Eighteenth-Century Origins” (from Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth)


V: February 7 Nineteenth-Century Romantic Landscapes

Course pack: William Cullen Bryant and Lydia Sigourney poems; Thomas Cole, “Essay on American Scenery” (note that the Cole essay did not reproduce well; I’ll post a link to the essay on Blackboard if your prefer to print out a cleaner copy)


Handouts: A sheaf of romatic landscape poetry


Electronic reserve: Barbara Novak, “Introduction: The Nationalist Garden and the Holy Book” (fromNature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825-1875)


[Note that links to Hudson River School material will be provided on Blackboard for your perusal.]


James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, early chapters


VI: February 14 James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, complete


Handouts: Catherine Maria Sedgwick, excerpt fromHope Leslie; brief critical commentary on Cooper


VII: February 21 Washington Irving, “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” AND Nathanial Hawthorne, “The Maypole of Merry-mount,” “Roger Malvin’s Burial,” and “Young Goodman Brown”

[Note: Copies of “The Maypole…” and “Roger Malvin’s Burial” will be provided; the other stories are widely available in anthologies, linked through Blackboard, and available on reserve in the library.]


Handouts: Selected critical commentaries on Irving and Hawthorne


Electronic reserve: Bryan Jay Wolff, “The Catastrophe of Imaginative Vision” (from Romantic Re-Vision: Culture and  Consciousness in 19th-Century American Painting and Literature)

VIII: Feb. 28


Last day to turn in short essay

The Domestic Frontier

Caroline Kirkland, A New Home, Who’ll Follow


Handouts: excerpts from Summer on the Lakes; critical commentary


IX: March 6 Transcendental Landscapes

Walden and “Walking”


Course pack: Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Frontier in American History”; selected critical commentary from the Norton Critical Edition


E-reserve: Buell, “Pastoral Ideology” (from The Environmental Imagination)


X: March 13 Mapping the Great Unknown: Science and the West

John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado


Handouts: Mary Austin, selections from Land of Little Rain


XI: March 27 Whitman, the Civil War, and the Post-Civil War Era

Most readings will be from Course Pack II; other readings will be announced


XII:April 3 Regional Visions

Willa Cather, O, Pioneers! , with selections from Norton Critical Ed.


XIII: April 10 William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses


Handouts: selections from I’ll Take My Stand; selected commentary


XIV: April 17 Conclusion

Second Nature, Pollan; excerpts from The Lawn