English 40W, “Literature of the Americas,” is a new course that reflects recent intellectual developments within the field of American literary studies.
“Literature of the Americas” is just one term for a new approach to American literature. Others include “Black Atlantic literature,” “trans-hemispheric American literature,” and “circum-Atlantic literature,” and draw on the work of theorists including Paul Gilroy, Antonia Benitez-Rojo, and Joseph Roach. Although these approaches differ in their methods and perspectives, they share a desire to understand “American” literature as it is produced in relation to the history of the United States “in the world.” “American,” in this context, means not just the United States of America, but all of North America ( i.e., Mexico, the United States, and Canada) Central America, and South America. The Caribbean figures prominently.
An example of a “literature of the Americas” approach is “Literature of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.” The history of “New World” slavery involves various sites: Africa, England and Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, South America. Africans were transported, via the Middle Passage, to Jamestown, in the U.S. colonies, as well as Bahia, Brazil and Havana, Cuba. How might this history of the transatlantic trade in human “cargo” affect our approach to 18th and 19th-century literature? For one thing, we might want to consider slave narratives written from different places, and/or in different languages, to understand the continuities and discontinuities among slavery in different places, where slave practices differed according to local culture, climate, and social customs (laws, etc.). How might we account for a subject like Mary Prince, the author of a 19th-century slave narrative, who traveled throughout the region and published her autobiography (in English) in London in the early 19th century?
These are just some examples. The English Department is excited to offer our first Literature of the Americas course (ENGL 40W) in fall 2007, when it will be taught by Professor Gayle Wald. Her focus will be on slavery and the “circum-atlantic” In the future, other faculty members will teach the course, molding it according to their own expertise and interests.