My topic this afternoon is the history of American Literature. By that, I don't mean the literature that Americans have written since Americans first existed-whether that is understood to be 1776, or 1607, or 1492, or the dawn of the Cenozoic era. I mean, rather, the subject called American Literature in our college catalogues, learned journals, scholarly books, curriculum vitae, conference programs, university press brochures, professional organizations, and the like. Any way you look at it, these two American Literatures, although interconnected in complex ways, are quite different things. Whether or not the literature that Americans have written over the years has a history, the academic subject of American Literature certainly does; and it's this history that I want, very briefly and anecdotally, to survey-partly because the story is interesting in itself, partly because it helps to explain how I happen to be here this afternoon, talking about it, but most of all because it involves Dartmouth College in a number of intimate and, to me, very surprising ways.
I thought initially of beginning my story with Thayendanegea, better known as Captain Joseph Brant, commander of the Loyalist Mohawks in the Revolutionary War. Brant, however, comes a little too early, having studied with Eleazar Wheelock not at Dartmouth but at the Indian School in Connecticut. He also comes too late, in that he doesn't figure directly in American literature until 1840, when he played the heavy in Charles Fenno Hoffman's historical novel Greyslaer, and not again until 1852, when his career as a foe and then a friend of Herman Melville's maternal grandfather, General Peter Gansevoort, earned him a cameo role in Melville's infamous anti-novel Pierre.
A better place to begin, perhaps, is where the phrase 'American literature' itself does, with the call that went out in the years immediately following Ratification for American writers to get busy and supply the fledgling United States with a literature befitting a civilized, legitimate nation. Among the very earliest responses to that call was an epic poem entitled The Vision of Columbus, written in 1787 by Joel Barlow, who, having been a Dartmouth undergraduate for two months in 1773, belongs with John Ledyard and Robert Frost on the honor roll of persons famous in the College for having left it.
As Barlow's poem opens, Columbus is languishing in chains in Valladolid and lamenting the hard fate that has come to him and to the New World in the aftermath of his discoveries. The Admiral is close to despair when an angel appears straight out of Paradise Lost and takes him to the top of a mountain. There Columbus is granted a vision of the future that removes all his doubts, not least because it includes the sight of 'growing Dartmouth' 'bosom'd in groves.'
So Dartmouth is in American literature at the outset. The converse, however, is by no means true. At the College that Barlow's Columbus sees from his hill, no one is studying or teaching American Literature. That wouldn't happen until American writers had produced a literature somewhat more deserving of the name than Barlow's poem; and even then, no American writer would appear on the syllabus until the College itself had undergone a thorough overhaul, replacing its ancient curriculum of theology and the Classics with a modern curriculum grounded in science, history, and the modern languages.
The struggle between the Ancients and the Moderns for control of the curriculum would be long and rancorous. Change, however, was already in the air. When Barlow wrote his Visions of Columbus, undergraduates at Yale were agitating (unsuccessfully) for the inclusion of English and of belles lettres in their studies, William and Mary College had appointed the first American professor of a modern language (French), and Harvard College had begun to allow students to substitute French for the required course in Hebrew. Barlow himself would point the way ahead. The author of The Vision was a thoroughgoing Ancient: a Classically trained anti-democrat who answered his country's call for a new literature with an epic poem modeled on Milton and Virgil. But before he died chasing Napoleon across Russia, Barlow would become, under the tutelage of Jefferson and Lafayette in Paris, an outspoken apologist for everything modern, including the French Revolution, republican politics, and the French language. And as an American writer, he would abandon heroic Columbus for homely corn-meal mush, the ancient epic for the modern mock-epic, to compose The Hasty-Pudding, the poem for which he is best remembered.
Before that poem would find a place in any college classroom, however, it would have to surmount a succession of hurdles placed in its way, first by the Classicists, who saw no reason to teach students a language already in their possession; then, in the late nineteenth century, by the philologists, who justified the teaching of English by concentrating on its pre-modern origins; then, in the early decades of this century, by the historians of English literature, who considered American writings literary only when they were least evidently American; and finally, in the years immediately following the Second World War, by the literary critics, who had no patience with extraneous matters like authorial nationality, on which the very idea of American
Literature has usually depended. Not until the later nineteenth century, really, would the subject of American Literature gain a foothold in the college curriculum. And not until the 1950s would it begin to acquire anything like the academic recognition we take for granted today.
An excellent place from which to view the rising fortunes of American Literature is the hill that Barlow's Columbus sees from his, the one on which we stand. From here, the historical landscape radiates around us, with its principal figures and events, near and distant, arranged in apparent relation to our coign of vantage. To be sure, the farthest fringes of this pattern may seem to lie well outside Dartmouth's gravitational field. For example, one can only suppose that the Hutchins Hapgood who chronicled the American progressive movement in fiction and journalism, early in this century, sprang from the same family as did the Hutchins Hapgood who graduated in the Class of 1813. On the other hand, we know very well that the Austin Dickinson in that same class was only a distant relative of Emily Dickinson's, although he read the law with her father and lent his name to her younger brother.
Closer in, the Dartmouth connections become somewhat clearer, if no less circumstantial. When Nathaniel Hawthorne was an undergraduate at Bowdoin along with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Franklin Pierce (LL.D., 1860), his Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy was Thomas Cogswell Upham 1818. When Hawthorne worked at the Boston custom-house, he roomed in the home of Thomas Green Fessenden, valedictorian in the Class of 1796 and himself an American writer of some note. His satirical poem Democracy Unveiled (1805) helped to inspire The Embargo (1808), the first published poem of William Cullen Bryant, and his verse narrative called 'Jonathan's Courtship' gave James Russell Lowell the model for his popular dialect poem 'The Courtin'.' Hawthorne was in addition a close friend of his publisher James T. Fields (LL.D., 1874) and a principal subject of Fields's still valuable memoir Yesterdays With Authors, as well as a prominent figure in the first series of Shelburne Essays, by Paul Elmer More (D.Litt., 1917).
Closer still, the pattern can become densely intricate. In 1780, Dartmouth gave a D.D. to Ezra Stiles. In addition to being the President of Yale (Eleazar Wheelock's college), Stiles was the grandson of the seventeenth-century Puritan divine Edward Taylor, whose unpublished poems were discovered in the Yale library in 1937 by Thomas H. Johnson 1923 and were given their definitive edition in 1960 by Donald E. Stanford, an instructor in English here at the College in 1937, the year Johnson made his discovery. Stiles was also the father-in-law of Abiel Holmes, the compiler of one of our earliest national histories, The Annals of America, 1492-1826 (in which Columbus again discovers the United States) and the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Professor of Anatomy in the Medical School from 1838 to 1840 and, of course, a major figure in the anthology of Chief American Poets, which was compiled in 1905 by Curtis Hidden Page, Dartmouth's third Winkley Professor of Anglo-Saxon and English Language and Literature from 1911 to 1930 and, as such, the teacher of Thomas H. Johnson.
At the nearest reaches of the pattern, the Dartmouth connections become quite direct. The graduating class of 1795 included Samuel Fowler Dickinson, the founder of Amherst College and the grandfather of Emily Dickinson, who is now trebly tied to Dartmouth, first by her brother's namesake in the Class of 1813, second by direct descent, and third by two Dartmouth graduates who went on to become American scholars of the first magnitude: Thomas H. Johnson, who in 1955 prepared the edition of Dickinson's poems that remains definitive, and Richard Chase 1937, whose critical biography of Dickinson (1951) enshrined her uncomfortably in the series called 'American Men of Letters.'
But Johnson and Chase remind me that my story has less to do with American authors than with the authors of American Literature-those members of the College, graduates and faculty, who helped to turn selected writings by Americans like Taylor, Hawthorne, Holmes, and Dickinson into the subject called American Literature, write its history, describe its character, and then seat it like an unwelcome guest at the dinner table of American higher education.
With that reminder, I must begin again, not with Brant or Barlow this time, but with Caleb Bingham, valedictorian in the Class of 1782, whose textbook The Young Lady's Accidence (1785) was, along with the Grammatical Institute, by Barlow's Yale classmate Noah Webster, one of the first two English grammars published in the United States (reminding us what our colleague Mary Kelley said in her recent Presidential Address, that the female academies were far in advance of the all-male colleges in the adoption of English studies). Even more important than Bingham's grammar was his Columbian Orator (1797). Not only does Bingham here treat the subject that would serve as the stalking-horse for English studies in the colleges, the volume survived to instruct American writers and orators from Daniel Webster 1801 to Abraham Lincoln, who called it his 'Bible,' and Frederick Douglass, who remembered it as the very first book he owned.
Although over eighty years would pass between the publication of The Columbian Orator and the first course in American Literature at Dartmouth, members of the College would spend the intervening decades pushing the Classical envelope. In 1828, there appeared in the catalogue of Amherst College the very first course in American Literature ever offered, taught by the Professor of Greek Language and Literature and Belles Lettres, Nathan Fiske, a Dartmouth graduate in the Class of 1817. Fiske's course was ill-timed, however. In that same year, Yale published its imperious Report, reaffirming the centrality of Latin and Greek in the American college curriculum; and the nation's first college course in its own literature closed down in 1830. That was a bad year for American Literature, except insofar as it saw the birth of Fiske's daughter Helen, whom two marriages would leave with the name Helen Hunt Jackson, the writer of the runaway best-seller Ramona (1884), which set out to protest the mistreatment of America's western tribes but ended up creating the romance of the California missions, as well as the roman à clef Mercy Philbrick's Choice (1876), based on Jackson's lifelong friendship with Emily Dickinson.
While Nathan Fiske was teaching the first course in American Literature, at Amherst, an earlier Dartmouth graduate published the first attempt at a history of the subject, the Lectures on American Literature, by Samuel Lorenzo Knapp 1804. Like Fiske, however, Knapp had put the reaper too close behind the plow. With only fifty years of history to recount, he found the supply of American Literature unequal to his enthusiasm for the subject. To bridge the gap and pad out his volume, Knapp adopted the view of early nationalist historians like William Allen, President of embattled 'Dartmouth University' in 1817 and compiler of An American Biographical and Historical Dictionary . . . from Its First Discovery to This Present Time (1809) (in which the history of the United States once again stretches back to Columbus). According to this historical construction, the thirteen continental colonies were United States before the fact, and the colonists were already American citizens. Their writings, therefore, were American Literature. With Necessity as his bride, Knapp managed in a single stroke to invent the subject of Colonial or Early American Literature, whose Americanness and literariness alike would remain disputed matters at least until the later 1930s, when Thomas H. Johnson published in rapid succession his Representative Selections from the writings of Jonathan Edwards (1935), the first collection of Edward Taylor's poems (1939), and, with Perry Miller, the landmark anthology called The Puritans (1938). From that moment on, the Early American Literature that Knapp had invented out of necessity would enjoy the status of historical fact. In 1966, the subject would even get its own scholarly journal, called Early American Literature and edited by Everett Emerson, who had been a Marine in the Dartmouth V-12 program at the end of the Second World War.
Back in 1829, however, Knapp regarded colonial writers largely as a present expedient and, even then, only as the foreground of an American Literature whose first flowering did not appear until The Federalist, by Alexander Hamilton (LL.D., 1790) and whose full fruitage lay well in the future. Accordingly, Knapp divided the rest of his career between the collection of American materials, as in his Dictionary of Female Biography (1834) and his Library of American History (1837), and the production of American Literature itself for later, less impoverished historians, including a collection entitled The Bachelors and Other Tales Founded on American Incidents and Characters (1836) and a Memoir of the Life of Daniel Webster (1831), whom Knapp had known at Dartmouth and with whom he had delivered a eulogy at the Boston commemorative for Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1826. The year 1829 saw yet another major event in the Dartmouth history of American Literature, one with far more consequence for the subject than either Fiske's abortive course or Knapp's premature history. I mean the American publication of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Aids to Reflection, with a 'Preliminary Essay' by James Marsh. Marsh himself was intimately connected with Dartmouth, having graduated with the Class of 1817, served as a tutor at the College from 1818 to 1820, married a niece of Eleazar Wheelock's, and then, when she died, married her sister.
By means of his edition of Coleridge, Marsh aimed to heal the growing split between 'old light' Calvinists and 'new light' revivalists among the Congregational clergy. Instead, his book landed in Concord, Massachusetts, where it provided the occasion for the first meeting of what was soon to be called the Transcendental Club. From Marsh's introduction, Ralph Waldo Emerson learned the quasi-Kantian distinction between the Reason and the Understanding that would inform such writings as his 'Divinity School Address' and make him persona non grata at conservative colleges like Harvard and Dartmouth for decades to come. Although Emerson would appear at Dartmouth commencement exercises in 1838 and again in 1868, like Walt Whitman in 1867 he would come at the invitation of the students, not the faculty, and would receive no honorary degree.
In time, Emerson's essay 'The American Scholar,' which Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes called 'our literary declaration of independence,' would provide the rationale for the study of American Literature, and Emerson himself would virtually personify the subject. For the nonce, however, the Classicists and Doctors of Divinity maintained their grip on the curriculum. Before Emerson could make his way from the undergraduate literary societies and the secondary schools into the college classroom, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew would have to make space for the modern languages; and they in turn would have to make room for English.
The first steps in that movement can be traced in the remarkable career of George D. Ticknor, who was admitted to Dartmouth (as a legacy) before he was ten years old but deferred until he was fourteen, when he entered as a junior, graduating at sixteen in 1807. After long study abroad, Ticknor became the first Smith Professor of French and Spanish at Harvard, from 1819 until 1835, when he relinquished the chair to Longfellow in order to write his monumental History of Spanish Literature (1849). By the time Longfellow turned the Smith professorship over to James Russell Lowell, in 1855, the modern languages were well established at Harvard. At the end of the next decade, Ticknor's nephew Charles W. Eliot instituted the elective system that allowed Harvard undergraduates to vote with their feet against the ancient languages, requiring of them only the course in English composition. (This seems the place to mention that George Ticknor was also the cousin of William D. Ticknor, the partner with James
T. Fields in the firm of Ticknor and Fields, publishers of Hawthorne, Longfellow, Holmes, and Emerson.)
For the remaining stages in the rise of American Literature as an academic subject, we can return to Dartmouth itself and the career of Edwin David Sanborn, who graduated in the Class of 1832 and whose succession of faculty positions tells the whole story. In 1835, Sanborn was appointed associate professor of Latin and Greek, and in 1837, associate professor of Latin. In 1859, he left the College to become the Professor of Classical Literature and History at Washington University (founded five years earlier by the grandfather of T. S. Eliot). In 1863, Sanborn returned to Dartmouth as the Evans Professor of Oratory and Belles Lettres, a post he held until 1880, when he became the first Winkley Professor of Anglo-Saxon and English Language and Literature.
The title of Sanborn's last chair resonates with significance for our history. The phrase 'English Language and Literature' reflects the pamphlet entitled The Needs of the University, which Yale issued in 1871 to rescind its edict of 1828 and recommend the adoption of studies in science, history, and the modern languages. The term 'Anglo-Saxon' in Sanborn's title reflects the advent of graduate studies in America, at Johns Hopkins in 1867, and the decision to justify teaching students their own language by making it as hard to learn as Latin or Greek. The model for this scientifically historical study of English lay ready to hand in the work of George Perkins Marsh, Dartmouth Class of 1820, especially his Grammar of the Old Northern or Icelandic (1838), his lectures on philology at Columbia (1854), and his book called The Origin and History of the English Language (1862).
Ordinarily, the philological bias of early English studies militated against any consideration of American writings, which were too familiar to require learned instruction and too recent to illustrate such arcana as Grimm's Law and the Great Vowel Shift. Sanborn, however, seems to have held no such prejudices, for one of his first acts as the Winkley Professor was to institute a course in American Literature at Dartmouth, one that would have no counterpart at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Pennsylvania, or Columbia for decades to come and, equally remarkable, would remain on the books, in one form or another, from then on.
What is more, Sanborn set out to create a dynasty of Dartmouth Americanists to carry on what he had started. Under his instruction, his daughter Kate Sanborn, sometimes called the first woman to receive a Dartmouth education, prepared the 'Lectures on American Literature' she would teach at Smith College from 1880 until 1883, the first such course to be offered in the women's colleges. When Sanborn retired in 1882, the Winkley Professorship passed to his former student Charles Francis Richardson 1871, whose two-volume American Literature, 1607-1885, is the first attempt at a comprehensive history of the now vastly expanded subject, so much so that it can now dispense with Spanish Columbus and begin with English John Smith and whose ten-volume Knickerbocker Edition of the works of Edgar Allan Poe (1902) declared Dartmouth a major source of American literary scholarship.
Had things gone the way of Sanborn's hopes, I suppose, the Winkley Professorship would have passed from Richardson to his own student Fred Lewis Pattee 1888. With the founding of the graduate schools, however, the study of English was rapidly becoming professionalized. The first learned journal in the field, The American Journal of Philology, appeared in 1880. The Modern Language Association was formed in 1883, and the first issue of PMLA came out a year later. All over America, the Ph.D. was replacing the A.M. and the D.D. as the qualifying degree for college professors; and so, instead of remaining at Dartmouth, Pattee went off to Germany for graduate study and then to Pennsylvania State University-or, as his critical adversary H. L. Mencken liked to say, 'somewhere in Pennsylvania.' There, Pattee offered that institution's first courses in American Literature, created his own Ph.D. program, and wrote the succession of American literary histories (including his First Century of American Literature, which spurns both Columbus and John Smith to begin in 1770, Dartmouth's first year of operations) that would make him the first incumbent Professor of American Literature in the country, as well as a major contributor to the first collaborative history of the subject, the 1917 Cambridge History of American Literature, and a founder and early chairman of the American Literature Group of the Modern Language Association.
Although Richardson tried to match the allure of the graduate schools by keeping his own graduate student of American Literature in 1895, upon his retirement in 1911 the Winkley Professorship went to Curtis Hidden Page, a Harvard Ph.D. whose Chief American Poets (1905) was already in print when he arrived in Hanover and surely recommended him for the post, although he would do nothing more in American Literature during his nineteen years at the College.
With Pattee's departure, the American Literary torch had passed altogether to the universities. Although Dartmouth instituted an undergraduate major in American Literature in the 1930s, throughout the first half of this century the College would serve mainly as a lively springboard for illustrious careers elsewhere. Among the men who held instructorships in English during these years were Brooks Atkinson, drama critic for the New York Times and biographer of Thoreau; Harold W. Blodgett, co-editor of the 'Comprehensive Reader's Edition' of Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1965); Mark Schorer, the biographer of Sinclair Lewis; Donald Stanford, editor of The Poems of Edward Taylor; Walter Bezanson 1933, editor of Clarel in both the Hendricks House and the Northwestern-Newberry editions of Melville's writings; James Franklin Beard, chief editor of the writings of James Fenimore Cooper; Paul Lauter, compiler of the revolutionary Heath Anthology of American Literature (1990); and Richard Bridgman, author of The Colloquial Style in America (1966), as well as books on Thoreau, Mark Twain, and Gertrude Stein.
To be sure, those Dartmouth undergraduates who went on to the universities for Ph.D.s in English and didn't return produced invaluable work. Carlos Baker 1932 published his monumental biography of Hemingway in 1969, and Quentin Anderson, a freshman in the Class of 1935, produced his 'Essay in American Literary and Cultural History' in The Imperial Self in 1972. Curtis Page's student Thomas H. Johnson planted Emily Dickinson firmly in the canon with his editions of her poetry and her letters and his Interpretive Biography (1955). His editions of Jonathan Edwards, the Puritans, and Edward Taylor rescued the subject of Early American Literature from the sneers of previous literary historians, Richardson and Pattee among them. With Robert Spiller, Willard Thorp, and Henry Seidel Canby, Johnson edited the second collaborative history of American literature, the 1948 Literary History of the United States and also compiled its Bibliography, generally considered the most useful section of the book.
The LHUS marks a hiatus in the tradition of American Literary history that Samuel Knapp had begun and that Richardson, Pattee, and Johnson had done so much to further. For the next forty years, American Literary historians would shun the comprehensive survey to treat the history of particular themes (the American Adam), forms (American poetry), periods (the American Renaissance), and places (the American West). Between 1948 and 1988, when the tradition resumed with a collaborative venture entitled The Columbia Literary History of the United States, scores of these topical monographs were published. A few proved mightily influential but none more so than The American Novel and Its Tradition (1955) by Richard Chase 1939. That single, slim volume taught two generations of Americanists to distinguish the 'English novel' from the 'American romance,' starting its own tradition of books and articles-historical, critical, and theoretical-on the American romance that continues unabated to this day.
Chase's work was influential in another, equally important respect. In the years after the war, criticism was rapidly displacing historical scholarship as the principal method of literary study and teaching. Having begun with H. L. Mencken's attacks on Pattee and the genteel professors who preferred Longfellow to Theodore Dreiser, the critical movement coalesced in 1940 at Kenyon College (founded by Philander Chase 1796) for the purpose of advancing 'Modern criticism' against the professors of literature by means of a symposium that included John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Cleanth Brooks, Lionel Trilling, and Dartmouth professor of English Sidney Cox. By the time Chase appeared on the scene, criticism was in the saddle, and one could no longer explain literature in terms of the historical circumstances that produced it. Since that interdict virtually forbade talk of American Literature, Chase simply approached his project from the opposite direction. Instead of deriving his novels from the history of America, he extracted an American history from a close reading of his novels.
Chase's methods served American literary study very nicely as long as the texts being studied were self-evidently literary, which is to say susceptible to being treated as poems. From the time of Samuel Knapp, however, the idea of American Literature had repeatedly tested the boundaries of the literary, smuggling in everything from voyage narratives, sermons, and political pamphlets to autobiographies and tall tales; and the critics' insistence on distinguishing between what T. S. Eliot called 'literature and another thing' threatened to reduce American Literary study to the spectacle that Quentin Anderson 1935 described as '10,000 graduate students dancing on the head of six books.' In order to escape the critical straitjacket and continue its interest in things American but imperfectly literary, American Literature metamorphosed into something called American Studies, by making common cause with certain American historians who were feeling equally restive within the constraints of scientific historicism. Here on the middle ground of American Studies, the literary scholars could ponder writings that the critics called trash, while the historians could dwell in an ideal America that their positivist colleagues called imaginary.
Among the American historians who contributed mightily to this interdiscipline are Carl Bridenbaugh 1925, whose many books on colonial history made use of writings long dear to students of Early American Literature; Page Smith 1940, whose multivolume People's History of America aimed to recover its subject from the experts and return it to the ordinary citizen in narrative, literary form; and David Brion Davis 1950, who started out in American Literature, with essays on Cooper and Dreiser and a book called Homicide in American Fiction, then gravitated smoothly into social history to become the pre-eminent scholar of American slavery.
Clearly, members of the College were doing important work in the field, as they had from the beginning. Except for Sidney Cox's succession of books on Robert Frost, however, this work was all being done away from Dartmouth, which had long ceased to be the center of American literary study that Sanborn and Richardson had envisioned. The English Department even shut down the old major in American Literature in 1954, just one year before it appointed a new member who, as his senior namesake might have said, was to make 'all the difference.'
Jim Cox came to Dartmouth in 1955 and immediately began to publish the essays on American writers-including Frost, Mark Twain, Poe, Ring Lardner, Richard Henry Dana, Stephen Crane, Henry James, Henry Adams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Shelby Foote, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Faulkner, and William Dean Howells-that would set a new standard of literariness for literary scholarship, American or other. Along with Cox's 1967 book, Mark Twain and the Fate of Humor, and the articles on American autobiography later collected in Recovering Literature's Lost Ground (1989), these essays put Dartmouth back on the map of American Literary studies, as 'the place where Jim Cox teaches.'
Not a whit less important than Cox's writings to Dartmouth's recovered standing in the field of American Literature are the appointments made during his tenure, for these new members would do exactly what he had in mind: they would take the study of American Literature in altogether new directions. Lou Renza began, as had Cox himself, on his mentor's turf, with a ground-breaking essay on autobiography, and went on to publish 'A White Heron' and the Question of Minor Literature, which turns its subject every theoretical way but loose. Bill Cook, present holder of Sanborn's Israel Evans chair, has made the study of African-American Literature a Dartmouth institution to an extent that would have astonished the 1901 recipient of an LL.D., Booker T. Washington; while Elaine Jahner has brought the study of Native American literature theoretically up to date.
Then there is Jim Cox's successor as the Avalon Professor of the Humanities. As the author of Visionary Compacts: American Renaissance Writings in Cultural Contexts, as the editor of several collections of essays, as a contributor to several more such collections, and as the editor of the 'New Americanists' series at Duke University Press, Don Pease is as responsible as anyone in the profession for acquainting Americanists with new ways to think about their subject. That Pease is also a contributor to one of the latest collaborative histories of American Literature, The Columbia History of American Poetry, indicates, as does Jim Cox's contribution to the companion Columbia Literary History of the United States, that Dartmouth is once again a major player in the field.
Earliest of all these Cox appointments, of course, is Blanche Gelfant, Robert E. Maxwell Professor of the Arts and Sciences emerita. Blanche came to Dartmouth in 1971, having just reprinted The American City Novel, a Pulitzer Prize nominee in 1954, and immediately set out to correct the long negligence of both American literary studies and the College toward women. That undertaking led to the scholarly discovery, or recovery, of writers like Willa Cather; to two more highly influential books, Women Writing in America (1984) and Cross-Cultural Reckonings (1995); and at last, to the highest prize that the profession of American Literature has to offer: the Jay B. Hubbell Medal for lifelong achievement in the field, particularly for work that has significantly influenced the way American Literature is understood, taught, and studied.
With that recognition, the long deferred hopes and expectations of Samuel Knapp, Nathan Fiske, Edwin Sanborn, Kate Sanborn, Charles Francis Richardson, Curtis Hidden Page, Sidney Cox, Henry Terrie, and above all, Jim Cox may be said to have been realized. Dartmouth College itself is now one of the places where American Literature gets done-and redone. While our graduates go on making important contributions to the field elsewhere, the College no longer has to rely on them for its connections with the profession.
Nor does all this doing and redoing show any signs of letting up. Although retired, Jeff Hart continues the adversarial critique of American culture that generated American Dissent (1966), When the Going Was Good (1982), From This Moment On (1987), and the essays collected in Acts of Recovery (1989). Ivy Schweitzer's articles for Early American Literature and her book, The Work of Self-Representation: Lyric Poetry in Colonial New England, are obligatory readings in the field that Samuel Knapp invented and that Thomas H. Johnson did so much to rescue from unearned contempt.
Like Ivy and all those other scholars whom Jim Cox brought to Dartmouth, the ones whom they in turn have appointed promise to expand the study of American literature still further, in directions that Sanborn could hardly have imagined when he instituted the first course here in 1880-toward Asian America with Deborah Chay, deeper into African-America with Marty Favor, toward Hispanic and gay America with Ricardo Ortiz, farther afield in women's America with Barbara Will, and with Josna Rege, toward the, to me, welcome prospect of a literary America that transcends its national boundaries.
If Columbus was cheered by the Dartmouth he saw a-growing back in 1787, imagine how he would feel if he could see it now.
* This essay is a revised version of a talk presented to the Friends of the Library on 6 May 1996
Last Updated: 4/19/17