American History*

Volume A

Colonial America: (15th to 18th Cent.)

1492 Columbus arrives in the Bahamas (1)

Literature about America encourages European movement into America.

Natives started dying from mistreatment and European diseases (chickenpox and measles) (3)

While Europe was becoming a nation of printed literature (with the invention of Gutenberg's printing press in 1450) united by the Latin roots of their language, Native American literature was oral and covers different linguistic families. (4)

16th Cent.:

Early century: Aztecs and Incas conquered. (8-9)

Spanish explorers bring African slaves to America. (15)

Spanish expeditions into South America and parts of Northern America. (15)

17th Cent.:

1607 Jamestown, first British colony, established in Virginia, (first attempt resulted in shipwreck, inspiring Shakespeare’s Tempest)

1620 Pilgrims, led by William Bradford, establish Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, New England: Scroopy Separatists of England, subject to prosecution under James Stuart’s rule, moved to Netherlands, then to Massachusetts on board the Mayflower. (9-10)

1630 Puritans, led by John Winthrop, moved to Plymouth on board the Arbella. (10-11)

Pilgrims and Puritans share Calvinist beliefs that God freely elected saved and damned. (10)

1692 Salem witch trials

Aided by literature of Puritans and college and printing press in Cambridge, New England became major literary figure, aiding in establishment of English as dominant language.

18th Cent.: (Enlightenment)

Enlightenment inspired by John Locke who saw that human sympathy is more essential to morality that supernatural grace. (357)

Enlightenment ideals: sees the universe as more rational and benevolent than with the Puritans. People more interested in the progress of the ordinary individual seeing a link between themselves as colonists (359)

The colonies are ethnically diverse (English, Dutch, German, French Protestants, Jewish merchants) (358)

Native American communities disappearing (358)

Women started writing in great numbers and the rights of women to be considered equals begins to be voiced. (363)

1773 Boston tea party: disguised like Native Americans, colonists protested taxes on tea by dumping tea in the harbour. (362)

1776 Declaration of Independence: 13 colonies declare independence of British government (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Islands, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia)


Volume B

Antebellum: (early to mid 19th Cent.)

1812 War with England lead to developing American literature that is republican & progressive and an antiaristocratic hero from obscure background. (933)

1820s American literary Nationalism seen in Cooper, Irving, Sedgewick who see that all nations will die one day. As the Native Americans are dying, so will the United Stated. They also emphasize on nature, seeing its vast area as a place to develop the national character. (930-31)

Publishing companies in New York & Philadelphia published pirated English writers so US writers found it hard to earn money for their books. (935)

1846-48 War with Mexico gained more land to the US (936)

1840s & 1850s Massive immigration from Ireland and other parts of Europe raised the population to 30 million by 1860 (936)

1830s-1850s American Renaissance seen in transcendentalists (Emerson, Melville, Thoreau, Whitman): through a study of nature (experience rather than traditional teaching of religion), Man's spirit will transcend his physical body.

American Renaissance focused on the reform movements (antislavery, women's rights) and rejected American literary nationalism and celebrated nonconformity and resistance. (938-9)

1830 Indian Removal Act relocating Indians, resulting in the “Trail of Tears” (1838-9)where many Cherokees dies of disease and deprivation while crossing to the Indian Territory.

1838 Underground Railroad aids slaves escaping north. (948)

1848 Seneca Falls Convention: campaign for women’s rights. (940)

1848-9 California Gold Rush: migration to the west in huge numbers. (949)

1850 Fugitive Slave Act obliges states to return escaped slaves. (942)

Civil War: (mid 19th Century)

1861 7 states seceded from the Union (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas), forming a new nation: The Confederates.

1861-65 Civil War: Northern States (Union) win over Southern States (Confederates).

1863 Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln, freeing slaves.


Volume C

Reconstruction (1865-77) reuniting South and North, amending constitution, establishing civil rights

Massive immigration into US land (mostly in the cities) by Europeans resulted in the displacement of Native American cultures. (3)

Wild life lost as a result of technological advancement as natural resources were used in the industrial field. (3)

1869 First transcontinental railroad completed. (3)

1869 Susan B Anthony & Elizabth Cady Staton from the National Women Suffrage Association calling for women's rights to vote among other rights.

Population shifted from country to city. Most European settlers choosing city life. By end of century, New England is no longer the main place for the white American population. (4)

Organized labor associations started with violent acts that eventually led to organized strikes and establishment of the American Federation of Labor in the 1880s. (5)

1877 Jim Crow Law segregates blacks and white.

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act lasting 10 years (Chinese immigration started with Gold Rush of 1848-55) mainly caused by economic downfall of country

1898-99 Spanish-American War

1903 Henry Fords founds Ford Motor Co, the Wright brothers make the first successful airplane flight, The Great Train Robbery (first US movie)

1909 NAACP founded (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.


In literature, new characters emerged (workers, poor, prostitutes, ethnic groups, immigrants) (5)

By beginning of 19th century, magazines and periodicals allowed American writers (Kate Chopin, Henry James, Mark Twain, etc) to earn money for their writing. (6)

Realism (literary movement) presents everyday life lived by ordinary people. (7)

A specifically American protagonist is established in the writings of Mark Twain, Edith Wharton and Henry James: the vernacular boy hero, the American Girl, etc). (7)

Realists like Twain and James saw that language was interpretation of reality, not reality itself. (Seen in Twain's vernacular style in Huck Finn which became an American style. (8)

Naturalism (literary movement) an extension of realism presenting low life characters such as criminals in a pessimistic theme. Taking its ideas from determinism (Darwin’s evolutionary theory of 1870 lead to the belief that the laws of nature are designed to eliminate the weakest members in society, and that nature 'determines' our position in life) (9)

This determinism was seen in literature to explain characters' actions, leading to a pessimistic form of realism as in Jack London and Stephen Crane.


Volume D

1914-18 WWI (England and France against Germany) (1071)

1917 Lenin leads the Communist revolution in Russia.

1917 United States enters war, against Germany (1071)

1920 Prohibition of manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol (seen very often as the beginning of organized crime.)

1920 Women given the vote (after which, feminist struggle subsided till the 1960s)


Conflict between individual and society rises (seen earlier in Transcendentalism) as the general spirit was for not conforming to the laws of society. This is intensified as Freud's studies of the unconscious revealed how the unconscious stores our repressed needs and desires. American literature thus explores how the individual is trapped in a repressive culture. (1074)

Jazz Age of Harlem Renaissance as African American art (music and poetry) gained a significant place in American culture.  (1075)

Automobiles a major introduction into the American homes. (1076)

1924 Asian Immigration Act excludes Chinese from entering the US (in an attempt to control the ethnic makeup of the American population) (1072)

1929 Stock market crashes. Great Depression begins, ends with WWII


As a result of depression, some Americans began to appreciate Communist thinking (Writing in the 19th century, Marx argues that economy is the base of all behavior and that those who control the economy of a country, also control its ideology or ways of thinking, and that the lower classes will eventually revolt against the higher ones).

When Stalin refused to wage war against Germany, some American Communists were either seen as traitors or turned to anti-communist thinkers feeling that Stalin's stand is a betrayal to them. (1077)

1939-45 WWII

1941 US enters war after Japan bombs Pearl Harbor (1071)

1945 Germany and Japan surrender after US drops nuclear bombs on Hiroshima an Nagasaki (1071)

Be the end of the 2 wars, Europe's economy deteriorates while American economy is on the rise, making the US the major global power. (1071)

Modernism refers to art that represents the breakdown of traditional society values as result of the modern scientific and technological advances. (1078)

Modernist literature is fragmented and without order as the world is now seen as one lacking of order and meaning. (1078)


Volume E

1945 With end of WWII, Cold War begins (an economic war that prevents contact between Western capitalist states and socialist Soviet Union) (1954)

American economy rises as world market opens for them. (1954)

1950s (often referred to as the Eisenhower Era (1953-1961): The American life was seen as unified in its dedication to a material type of life and a need to return women to the domestic field, after having taken part in the war effort. (1954-5)

1960s started with assassination of John Kennedy marking the Kennedy era as a culturally focused one, interested in civil rights movements (Kennedy's wife revived the interest in art, and his brother actively worked to stop segregation)

1963 Martin Luther King "I Have a Dream" symbolizes civil rights movements of the 1960s

1968 Martin Luther Kind and Robert Kennedy assassinated. (1956)

1965-73 Vietnam War

1969 The Woodstock Festival, symbolizing the struggles for freedom of thought

1970s & 1980s: African American women writers gain huge success. (1960)

The previous focus and belief in unity and homogeneity shifted to interest in diversity, thus encouraging the emergence of Latino literature among literature of other ethnic groups.

Latino/latina: male and female form referring to Americans from Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican or other Spanish roots.

Chicano/Chicano: those specifically from Mexican descents

Mestizo: American from Native and White descents

Mulatto: American from Black and White descents

1989 Cold War ends with collapse of Soviet Union

1991 Persian Gulf War

2001 September 11 terrorist attack on America


*Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 5 Volumes. 6th & 7th ed. NY: Norton, 2007.