The nineteenth century perfectionist project – the ambition to establish an ideal society – often involved rethinking ideas about marriage and sexuality. In this course we will look at select topics in the history of sexuality and reform in early America, including the experimentation with different forms of marriage by various communitarian groups (Shakers, Mormons); the interaction of the nineteenth-century feminist movement with other reform movements (abolitionism, temperance, women’s rights); same-sex relationships and identities; marriage and violence; and others. We will draw on insights and sources from a variety of disciplines. Primary readings in a variety of genres will include journals and personal narratives, journalism and fiction, with authors Abigail Bailey, Harriet Jacobs, Henry James, Elizabeth Stoddard, and others. Each student will develop an original research project to work on over the course of the semester. For English majors, this course may be counted as a period course (or, for the new program, as a pre-1900 course). For American Studies minors, this course may be counted in any one of the three categories.
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