Welcome to Poe's America

Unlike the other history classes you've taken at the University of Georgia, Senior Seminar involves the actual "doing" of history. Part writing workshop, part directed study, part support group, this class will help you to write an original historical essay, based on new sources and fresh perspectives and written in prose that sings.

Like any artist, the goal of the historian is originality in the service of truth. But like any artist, the historian must first learn how to be original and how best to capture truths. In the first half of the semester, you will learn to think, research, and write like an historian. How do you find a good topic? How do you do original research? How do you come up with new insights? How do you craft an essay that is lively, persuasive, and important? Then, in the second half of the semester, you will be turned loose to do these things, occasionally reporting back to me and the group on your progress.

The thematic focus of this seminar is the life and times of Edgar Allan Poe. By the 1830s self-possession had become the preoccupation of the industrializing world. Capitalism stressed self-possession; so did the movements that emerged to reform it -- temperance, women's rights, abolition. For his part, Poe was merely possessed -- a slave to the market, to drink, to the pressing needs of women, to his own ambitions for himself. And try as he might Poe could not write himself free. The detectives he created were inseparable from the madmen they pursued. The women he murdered would never stay dead. The readership he courted he also despised. Poe, a contemporary critic marveled, had somehow slipped "below the suicide point [where] death open[ed] up no hope for him [because] his quarrel [was] not with life on earth [but] with being anywhere."

In this class, Poe is the wild-eyed barker who ushers you into the haunted funhouse that is the antebellum imagination. Once strapped in, you are in for a sensational ride, a lurid tour not of the world Poe created but of the world that created Poe -- a world of mechanical chess players, mummies, mermaids, mesmerism, murder, madness, revenant ladies and impotent men, Antarctic exploration, secret societies and encrypted writing, detectives and confidence men, hoaxes, phrenology, perversity, seances, and all that simultaneously titillated and terrified antebellum America.


Schedule for the Course

Introductions (Jan. 12)

Poe's Life (Jan. 14)
Reading: Benjamin F. Fisher, A Cambridge Introduction to Edgar Allan Poe ["Life," and "Contexts"] | Berenice

The Man of the Crowd: Poe and Gotham (Jan. 19)
Reading: The Man of the Crowd | Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences | "Seeing New York" from Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace's Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, pp. 691-711
Assignment: Using the Early American Newspapers database, find and bring in a newspaper article that you think captures an interesting, important, or Poe-esque aspect of urban life in the Poe years.

Murder Most Foul: Poe and the Penny Press (Jan. 21)
Reading: Murders in the Rue Morgue (CT 141-169) | The Mystery of Marie Roget (CT 169-208)
Assignment: Using the Early American Newspapers database, find and bring in a newspaper article about an intriguing crime or murder in the Poe years.

Thingum Bob: Poe and Authorship (Jan. 26)
Reading: Stephen Berry, selections from A Strange and Fearful Being: Edgar Allan Poe and the Art of Self Destruction (chapters on "Poe and Dickens" and "Poe and Longfellow"
Assignment: Using the eapoe.org website, find a famous person Poe knew and come to class prepared to explain their connection.

Revenant Women and Impotent Men: Poe and Gender (Jan. 28)
Reading: Ligeia (CT 654-667) | The Black Cat
Assignment: Browse the magazines digitized by the two "Making of America" websites -- one at Cornell and one at the University of Michigan -- and find an article that you think reveals something important about gender relations and the experience of women in the Poe era.

Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race (Feb. 2)
Reading: Alan Henry Rose, Demonic Vision, pp. 25-38 | Henry Clay Lewis, The Curious Widow | Henry Clay Lewis, Stealing a Baby | Image from Odd Leaves | Henry Clay Lewis, A Struggle for Life | Another image from Odd Leaves | Edgar Allan Poe, Hop-Frog
Assignment: Browse the online sources we have explored to find an article that you think reveals something important about race relations and the experience of African Americans in the Poe era.

Voyages: Poe, Nineteenth Century Exploration, and the Birth of Science Fiction (Feb. 4)
Reading: Skim the Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (CT 748-887) | Nathaniel Philbrick, Sea of Glory [preface] | Hans Pfaall (CT 3-42)
Assignment: Using the libraries online databases, specifically the Proquest American Periodicals Series, find an article from Scientific American that you think reveals something interesting about science in the Poe era.

Being Odd, Getting Even: Poe and Death (Feb. 9)
Reading: The Imp of the Perverse (CT 280-285) | "City in the Sea"
Assignment: After exploring the CSI:Dixie website, find one inquest from the database that you think reveals something important or interesting about death in nineteenth-century America.

Research Discussion (Feb. 11)
Reading: fellow students' proposals
Assignment: Before noon on February 10, email to the class listserv a couple of paragraphs laying out the topic, format, and evidentiary base of your senior thesis. Come prepared to talk about your choices.

Presentations I (Apr. 21)
Assignment: Come to class prepared to deliver a mini-lecture on your chosen topic.

Presentations II (Apr. 26)
Assignment: Come to class prepared to deliver a mini-lecture on your chosen topic.

Presentations III (Apr. 28)
Assignment: Come to class prepared to deliver a mini-lecture on your chosen topic.

** FINAL PAPERS DUE ** (May 4)


Grading

Participation: 25%
Final Presentation: 25%
Final paper: 50%


Contacting Me

I am happy to meet with students at my office (111 LeConte Hall) on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:15p to 4:30p. To schedule a meeting at another time, please feel free to call (706-542-8848) or email me.