American Protest Literature

Literature and Arts A-86 (also ENGL E-196):
   American Protest Literature from Tom Paine to Tupac

American Protest Literature from Tom Paine to Tupac is an interdisciplinary course examining the rich tradition of protest literature in the United States from the American Revolution to the rise of Hip Hop culture and globalization.  Using a broad definition of “literature,” it examines a wide variety of print, visual, and oral forms and focuses on the production and consumption of dissent as a site of social critique and catalyst for social change.  The course explores historical links between forms of protest and meanings of literature by focusing on the various aesthetic, performative, rhetorical, and ideological dimensions of dissent within specific cultural contexts.

“Protest Lit”—as it is commonly referred to among students—has been co-taught since the spring of 2002 by John Stauffer, Professor of English and American Civilization, and Timothy Patrick McCarthy, Lecturer on History and Literature and Director of the Carr Center Human Rights and Social Movements Program.  It has been offered as a lecture course in the Core Curriculum (Literature and Arts A-86) and also as an on-line course (ENGL E-196) through the Harvard Extension School’s Distance Education Program.

Please note:  Only the on-line version of the course will be offered during the 2009-10 academic year (Fall 2009).

Required texts for the course include:  Tom Paine, Common Sense (1776); David Walker, An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829); Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852); Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855); Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills (1861); Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Southern Horrors (1892); W. E. B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk (1903); Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906); John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath (1939); James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941); Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963); James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963); Michael Herr, Dispatches (1977); Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (1984); Joan Williams, Unbending Gender (2001); Tony Kushner, Angels in America (HBO film version, 2003); Kevin Bales, Ending Slavery (2007); and selections from Zoe Trodd, ed. American Protest Literature (2006).

Course Syllabus

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Lecture Videos

This series of six lectures from “American Protest Literature from Tom Paine to Tupac” examines various protest writings within the context of the struggle to abolish slavery in the United States from the American Revolution to the Civil War.  The following lectures are free and available to the public through the Antislavery Literature Project:

Course Notes and Blog

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This 9-part podcast series from “American Protest Literature from Tom Paine to Tupac” examines protest literature in the context of politics, class, race, gender, sexuality, and more by investigating sources from eighteenth century political treatises all the way to contemporary Hip Hop.  Topics include:

The Age of Revolution Listen/Download MP3 (8:28)
Slavery and Abolition Listen/Download MP3 (9:36)
Harriet Beecher Stowe and Transcendentalist Protest Literature Listen/Download MP3 (8:39)
The Souls of Black Folk Listen/Download MP3 (9:53)
The Grapes of Wrath Listen/Download MP3 (8:11)
Feminist Voices Listen/Download MP3 (10:11)
Tony Kushner and Gay Liberation Listen/Download MP3 (9:59)
Counterculture Listen/Download MP3 (8:21)
Hip Hop Hits Listen/Download MP3 (9:39)
*To download the MP3 file, right click on the link and select "Save File As..." from the pop-up menu.

The entire series of nine podcasts is also available, free-of-charge, from the Apple iTunes store.
To download from iTunes click here.