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Creating American Civilization

Creating American Civilization: A Genealogy of American Literature as an Academic Discipline

Volume: 11
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Creating American Civilization
    Book Description:

    “‘American literature’ seems by now so natural and inevitable an entity that we forget that it did not just grow organically out of American soil, much less spring full blown from the minds of a few geniuses. In this highly readable study, David Shumway recovers the forgotten social, historical, and institutional conditions that explain why the concepts both of ‘literature’ and of distinctive literary Americanness emerged together at a particular time and place and how their merger reshaped America's educational vision. Shumway has written a penetrating and provocative account of the making of American Civilization as an academic field.” --Gerald Graff, University of Chicago

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8482-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: The History of a Discipline
    (pp. 1-22)

    We usually think of academic disciplines as associated with particular subject matters, defined worlds of objects that academic fields more or less successfully seek to represent as knowledge. Members of the profession and the public at large normally think about “American literature” as the novels, poems, plays, and some special works of nonfiction prose written by Americans, things to be investigated, studied, interpreted, like other things. We are most of the time convinced that American literature has as much an independent existence as a rock or tree. It is the premise of this book that although it is possible to...

  5. Part I. Beginnings

    • 1 The Literary in America, 1890-1920
      (pp. 25-60)

      At the turn of the century, American literature was taught only sporadically in universities and colleges (literature itself being a relatively recent addition to the curriculum). The literary culture of the early part of this century was dominated by men of letters, who tended to be not only critics and writers but editors as well. There were stronger connections between journalism and the literary world than between that world and the university. Even within the university, many of the leading figures were men of letters rather than researchers. Thus literary research in the university was a minor aspect of the...

    • 2 Preprofessional History and Criticism
      (pp. 61-95)

      In 1900, the American literary world was permeated by the sense that an era had recently come to a close. Certainly one of the major interests ofLiterary Friends and Acquaintanceto its contemporary audience was the fact that Howells had managed to meet all of the then-departed literary lions of New England, and had been friends with many of them. The last of the major Boston writers, Oliver Wendell Holmes, died in 1894. A memoir of Brook Farm published in 1900 notes that of all of the “memorable company” of literary lights not one was then alive.¹ A second...

    • 3 English as a Discursive Practice
      (pp. 96-120)

      If the literary was centered outside of the university in the early years of this century, literature was, nevertheless, a growing academic field. The spread of English literature as a subject of instruction at American colleges and universities was extremely rapid. Although Anglo-Saxon had long been taught at Virginia because of Thomas Jefferson’s provision for it, English as a college subject was mainly a matter of rhetoric, composition, and oratory. In 1857, Francis A. March was named professor of English Language and Comparative Philology at Lafayette College, the first chair in English, according to his institution, but it was not...

  6. Part II. Institutionalization

    • 4 American Literature as a Discipline: Constituting the Object
      (pp. 123-147)

      The last section is properly understood as the prehistory of my subject, American literature as an academic field. In previous chapters I have described the place and function of the literary in American culture as it changes from a powerful, elite cultural sector to one at first divided against itself by the rise of mass media, and then increasingly marginalized as those media expand in number and influence. Literature, nevertheless, retains much of the value it had acquired—by serving particular ideological functions within bourgeois culture—even as it retreats from the market into the protection of the university. Beginning...

    • 5 Institutionalizing American Literature
      (pp. 148-190)

      In chapter 3 we saw how English functioned as a research discipline and observed that both a learned society (MLA) and a central journal (PMLA) were necessary for it to do so. Without such disciplinary apparatus, English could not have held a significant place in the new university. It might have continued to be taught to undergraduates, as was composition within English departments, but it would have lacked the status of other subjects that claimed to produce, and not merely transmit, knowledge. For American literature to become a discipline, even a subdiscipline, it needed an apparatus paralleling that of English...

    • 6 American Literature in the Curriculum
      (pp. 191-218)

      The last two chapters have examined the way in which American literature became established as a research discipline. In that discussion, some consideration has been given to graduate training in American literature as a necessary element in creating a field of research. But undergraduate teaching is an important aspect of the institutionalization of American literature as well. It was by means of undergraduate teaching—and through it, high school teaching—that the research discipline’s conception of American literature was most widely disseminated. Relatively few people outside of the profession read the academic articles and books it produced, but increasing numbers...

  7. Part III. Creating American Civilization

    • 7 The Triumph of the Aesthetic
      (pp. 221-260)

      The development of the American literature curriculum demonstrates a historical predilection toward an aesthetic conception of literature. Such a conception was already the dominant understanding of literature at the turn of the century, but the residual identification of literature with learning or knowledge remained influential. That broader conception of literature helped define the object of theCambridge History of American Literature,Parrington’sMain Currents,and many anthologies of American literature from Pattee’s through Warfel, Gabriel, and Williams’sThe American Mind (1937).As we have seen, in the 1930s this broader conception continued to decline, and the object of study was...

    • 8 Left Criticism and the New York Intellectuals
      (pp. 261-298)

      If the right-wing criticism of the 1930s was eventually to radically alter academic practice, the left-wing criticism of the same period would not in itself have much impact on American literature as an academic field. But one branch of the literary left of the 1930s would come to have a significant influence on literature in the academy, and on the study of American literature in particular. The New York Intellectuals are a group that has come to have almost mythic significance in American cultural history. Like the New Critics, the New York Intellectuals formed outside of the academy, but though...

    • 9 Civilization “Discovered”
      (pp. 299-344)

      One goal of the organized study of American literature almost from the founding of the ALG had been to discover what it was that made American literature a single entity, and what it was that distinguished this entity from other national literatures. We have seen that the Americanists’ scholarly practice and the assumptions on which it rested prohibited them from attaining these goals. The new hermeneutics that characterize the work of the New Critics, of academic critics such as Matthiessen, and of the New York Intellectuals made it theoretically possible for these questions to be addressed successfully. This explains much,...

  8. Epilogue: A Trailer
    (pp. 345-360)

    If I have told my story well, the reader will be hoping for more. Even if I’ve not been such a good storyteller, the reader may be frustrated because the story seems to end in the middle. After all, the last major text I've dealt with,The Machine in the Garden,was published in 1964. More important, perhaps, than the simple span of time is the widespread perception that literary studies in general and the study of American literature in particular have undergone nearly revolutionary change in that time. The reality of that change is part of the reason the...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 361-390)
  10. Index
    (pp. 391-408)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 409-409)