The Transatlantic Eighteenth Century

Course Description:

Transatlanticism, as a concept, both confounds and clarifies a nation-based understanding of community and identity, and also, of literary study. In this course we will explore the ways in which literary texts of the eighteenth century transcend the bounds of the culture and the nation in which they were produced to become part of a larger cultural exchange that characterized Anglophone culture throughout the Atlantic world, and which continues to impact our globalizing world today. Guiding our study are the following key questions:

  • What does it mean to categorize an author or text by means of his/her/its nationality (e.g. British vs. American writers and literature)? What does it mean to disrupt that categorization?
  • To what extent do we already think in transatlantic, transnational, and transhistorical terms, and how can we translate this to our approach to literary study?
  • How does our understanding of a transatlantic approach to literature inform or change our understanding of the category of “the long eighteenth century”?

To answer these questions, we will read texts that emphasize the circulation of ideas, of bodies, and of commodities beyond national borders. Sometimes these elements will be bound up within the same material object, such as the body of a slave, but they may also manifest separately and discretely. As we progress through the course, you should consider how the circulation of ideas, bodies, and commodities shapes the discussion of our framing questions.

Our course will be organized around four units that are both distinct and overlapping. You will find yourself returning to some texts as we move throughout the course and you begin to develop a more nuanced understanding of the various threads of a transatlantic approach. As we conclude each unit we will reconvene around our frame discussion. Our units are as follows:

Unit 1: Native bodies, the “new-found land,” and the Protestant imagination

Week 1:

William Bradford – “Of Plymouth Plantation,” selections
Anne Bradstreet – selected poems
Thomas Morton – New English Canaan, selections
Mary Rowlandson – The Sovereignty and Goodness of God…a narrative of the captivity and restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson
John Winthrop – “A model of Christian charity”

Week 2:

Menasseh ben Israel – The Hope of Israel
Thomas Thorowgood – Jews in America, Or, Probabilities that the Americans are of that Race

Unit 2: Commodified bodies and the transatlantic slave trade

Weeks 3 & 4:

Aphra Behn – Oroonoko
Richard Ligon – History of the Island of Barbados, selections (the story of Yarico)
Thomas Southerne – Oroonoko
Richard Steele – The Spectator nos. 10 & 11

Week 5:

Belinda– Petition of an African Slave, to the Legislature of Massachusetts
Quobna Ottobah Cugoano–Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species
James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw– A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African Prince, as related by Himself
Briton Hammon– Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man
Phyllis Wheatley, selected poems and letters

Week 6:

Royall Tyler – The Algerine Captive

Unit 3: Family, empire and the female body

Weeks 7 & 8:

Penelope Aubin – The Life of Charlotta du Pont
Susanna Rowson – Charlotte Temple
Paper 1 Due

Weeks 9 & 10:

Daniel DeFoe – Moll Flanders

Unit 4: Revolution, rebellion and transatlantic citizenship

Week 11:
Olaudah Equiano– The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, selections
Tobias Smollett – The Adventures of Roderick Random

Week 14:

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur – Letters from an American Farmer
John Locke – The Second Treatise of Civil Government, selections

Week 15:

Toussaint L’Ouverture – selected speeches and letters

Week 16

Paper 2 Due


For this class, you will write 2 papers, one 6-7 pages and one 8-10 pages, both of which must make use of secondary sources to support your argument. We will discuss in class how to find and vet these sources so don’t worry if you aren’t yet familiar with this kind of advanced research.

Additionally, you and a partner will lead class once. Leading class entails a short presentation (10 minutes) that treats an aspect of the day’s assigned text, followed by discussion focused by the content of the presentation and questions that you develop. You may be as creative as you like with the presentation and discussion, provided they remain focused on the goals of the class. I encourage you to come up with new and interesting ways to present your treatment of the text, especially ways that may destabilize the authority of the standard short lecture/discussion format so common to classroom presentations. We will discuss potential creative avenues for your presentations, but for now, a few suggestions:

  • A staged scene or dramatic reading
  • Video-based projects, such as a video diary or short film
  • Web-based projects, such as a blog or you-tube video
  • A mini-lecture, PowerPoint presentation, or more traditional format

I will grade you not on how “cool” or innovative your idea is, but rather on how well your presentation conveys your interpretation of the text, as well as on the interpretation itself. The point of challenging you to be creative in your presentations is to challenge you to think outside of the traditional model of academic learning, and to open up new avenues for understanding literature. If we are exploring the circulation of texts, ideas, bodies and objects, as well as decentering our understanding of nationhood and period, then you may find it helpful to mimic/model this practice in the ways that you approach reading and discussing a text.