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BA American Studies / Course details
Year of entry: 2022
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Course unit details:
Uncle Tom's Cabin as Global Media Event
|Unit level||Level 2|
|Teaching period(s)||Semester 2|
|Offered by||English and American Studies|
|Available as a free choice unit?||No|
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) changed the world. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel about an enslaved man named Tom energized the anti-slavery movement. It sold more copies than any prior novel in American history. It shaped how future novelists, even pro-slavery novels, would write. Vaudeville acts, children’s books, and silent movies would re-use key characters from Stowe’s novel, and the novel itself would spawn merchandise, sequels, and rip-offs like any contemporary movie franchise. This module will explore how Uncle Tom’s Cabin reshaped politics and literature. Students will select a single element in the production or reception of Uncle Tom’s Cabin—such as illustrations or vaudeville songs—and in a final research essay trace the importance of that element over time. Students in this module will consider, ultimately, how a novel becomes a world-transforming media event, and they will also consider the uses and limitations of understanding politics through a work of fiction.
- To chart the production and reception of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), the most popular nineteenth-century novel in the United States.
- To consider how works of fiction can influence politics, economics, and even war.
- Allow students to conduct a long-term research project that examines the relationship between a work of literature and material artifacts, such as illustrations, songbooks, photographs, silent movies, or other ephemera.
- To develop advanced skills of cultural observation, critical analysis, and contextualization.
- To improve students’ skills at working with primary-source materials across a variety of genres.
By the end of this course students should/will (please delete as appropriate) be able to:
Knowledge and understanding
On completion of the course students should be able to demonstrate:
- An understanding of the mechanisms by which Uncle Tom’s Cabin shaped anti-slavery politics in the United States and around the world.
- A familiarity with the modes of representation through which northern white people in the United States came to understand American slavery.
- An understanding of how works of fiction shape culture through reiteration—illustrations, songs, spinoffs, mockeries, branded toys, and more.
- The ability to analyse and interpret a range of primary sources and place them in historical context.
- The ability to analyze historical artifacts in context.
- Demonstrate the ability to design a research question and answer it in the form of an essay that responsibly analyzes a coherent group of primary sources.
- Be able to identify, locate, and incorporate primary historical texts and documents in their own research.
- The ability to use non-paywalled and university databases to gather historical materials.
- The ability to gather and keep track of multiple sources of information.
Transferable skills and personal qualities
- The ability to carry out research by crafting a coherent research question, limiting that question through a coherent logic of selection, and answering that question through research and writing.
- Improved critical faculties.
- Ability to work independently and in groups.
|Archival Review Essay||40%|
|Final Research Essay||60%|
The main works we will use, and the best introductory guides for this course, include:
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, ed. Elizabeth Ammons (1852: New York, Norton, 2017)
Stephen Railton, ed., Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture: A Multi-Media Archive, University of Virginia, 2009.
Frances Watkins [Harper], “Eliza Harris,” “To Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe,” and “Eva’s Farewell,” in Frederick Douglass’s Paper (1853-1854)
Aunt Mary [pseud.], A Peep into Uncle Tom's Cabin (London: Sampson Low & Son, Boston: Jewett and Company, 1853)
Mary Henderson Eastman, Aunt Phillis's Cabin; or, Southern Life As It Is (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co, 1852)
H. V. Messetti, Little Eva's Temptation: A Farce Comedy Suggested by Uncle Tom’s Cabin (c. 1920)
|Independent study hours|
|Gordon Fraser||Unit coordinator|
Available to all American Studies students, as well as English Lit, English Lit w/Creative Writing, and English Lit & History.