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Literature 3A: American Literature, 1620-1865: The American Renaissance


Admission requirements

Successful completion of Literature 1A and 2, or equivalent.


We shall start the course by tracing American literature to its Puritan beginnings, focusing on the spiritual autobiography and the Indian captivity narrative, two Puritan genres that greatly influenced some of the later works we are reading. The main focus of course, however, will be on the American Renaissance (1836-1861). In this era of Romantic revolution, the philosopher-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson became an important agent of cultural change and a major influence on many of his contemporaries, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and even the more critical Herman Melville. With the publication of The Scarlet Letter (1850), Moby-Dick (1851), and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), the literature of the new American republic came to rank with the classics of world literature for the first time, while Whitman and Emily Dickinson produced poems that, advanced beyond their own age, signaled the advent of modern poetry. The period also marked the beginning of an African-American literary tradition, as Frederick Douglass and other fugitive slaves published autobiographical narratives that had a great impact on black writers in the twentieth century. We shall study the authors of the American Renaissance not only in their literary-historical context, but also in the context of the political and social developments of the time, such as the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements.

Course objectives

This course aims to give a survey of early American literature in the context of intellectual, cultural, social and political developments in American society from its colonial beginnings to the end of the Civil War. Students will be introduced to a variety of literary strategies and genres such as the spiritual autobiography and Indian captivity narrative that had a profound impact on American literature in later periods.


The timetable will be available by June 1st on

Mode of instruction

Lectures and seminar discussion

Assessment method

1500-2000 word essay (40%) and midterm + final exam (together 60%).


At least two weeks before the course starts, the Blackboard site will be open for self-enrolment. There you can find the course syllabus.

Reading list

  • Norton Anthology of American Literature (NAAL), 7th ed., vol A and B.

  • Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Norton Critical Edition, 2nd ed.

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Penguin).


Students should register through uSis. First Year cannot register through uSis. The administration will register them. Exchange students cannot register through uSis, but must see the director of studies and register there. If you have any question please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272144 or mail:

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Departmental Office English Language and Culture, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144; mail:
Studentcounsellor Bachelor: Mw. S.H.J. Bollen, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103B.
Coordinator of Studies Master: mw. K. van der Zeeuw-Filemon, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103C.