It is all but inevitable for literary history to be divided into periods. "Early American," "antebellum," "modern," "post-1945"—such designations organize our knowledge of the past and shape the ways we discuss that past today. These periods tend to align with the watershed moments in American history, even as the field has shifted its perspective away from the nation-state. It is high time we rethink these defining periods of American literary history, as the drawing of literary timelines is a necessary—even illuminating—practice.
In these short, spirited, and imaginative essays, 23 leading Americanists gamely fashion new, unorthodox literary periods—from 600 B.C.E. to the present, from the Age of Van Buren to the Age of Microeconomics. They bring to light literary and cultural histories that have been obscured by traditional timelines and raise provocative questions. What is our definition of "modernism" if we imagine it stretching from 1865 to 1965 instead of 1890 to 1945? How does the captivity narrative change when we consider it as a contemporary, not just a "colonial," genre? What does the course of American literature look like set against the backdrop of federal denials of Native sovereignty or housing policies that exacerbated segregation?
Filled with challenges to scholars, inspirations for teachers (anchored by an appendix of syllabi), and entry points for students, Timelines of American Literature gathers some of the most exciting new work in the field to showcase the revelatory potential of fresh thinking about how we organize the literary past.
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