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Literature of Slavery and the American Civil War

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

Discover how literary texts of the American 19th century explored ideals of freedom, equality, and democracy in the shadow—or through the lived experience—of race-based slavery. Writers developed new forms of prose and poetry to reflect their country’s contradictions, and to imagine a nation healed after the Civil War.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No prior knowledge is required. 

Content of Course

1. Slavery & Freedom: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. Reading: selections from Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, An American Slave and Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

2. Citizenship & Conscience: Henry David Thoreau, Reading: selections from Henry David Thoreau, Walden and ‘Civil Disobedience’

3. Dreams of Union: Walt Whitman. Reading: selections from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Drum-Taps

Teaching method(s)

Introductory lectures plus class discussions based around guided reading of literary texts.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Discuss how American slavery gave rise to new literary forms.
  2. Analyse literary texts of 19th-century America in their historical context.
  3. Describe the relationship between literature and political ideals and arguments.


Core Readings


The following selections from literary texts will be provided as handouts:

     Slavery & Freedom:

  • From Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, An American Slave, Chapters I, VI, XI.

  • From Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl :‘A Perilous Passage in the Slave Girl’s Life’, ‘Still in Prison’, ‘Free at Last.

Citizenship & Conscience:

  • From Henry David Thoreau, Walden and ‘Civil Disobedience’: ‘Economy’ (first chapter of Walden), ‘Civil Disobedience’

Dreams of Union:

  •  From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Drum-Taps: Song of Myself 1, 10, 16, ‘Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night’, ‘The Wound-Dresser’

Class Handouts

Handouts with readings to be provided by tutor.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.