English 495.01 (Advanced Studies)
Walt Whitman's America


Walt Whitman is the most influential poet America has yet produced. He expanded the boundaries of what a poem could do and what a poet could represent. He envisioned Leaves of Grass as a "new American Bible," and he presented himself as the long-awaited "American bard" sounding his "barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world." Through period of traumatic change, Whitman and his book reflected the tensions between the ideals of freedom and equality and the harsh realities of building a nation. For Whitman and future generations, the outcome of these struggles would define what it means to be an "American."

This seminar will examine Whitman's life and writings in the context of 19th-century American culture (with due attention to our 21st-century concerns). Literature will be our primary focus, but we will also consider film, painting, photography, advertising, the built environment, and books as physical objects. Along the way, you will also become familiar with a variety of critical approaches, including New Historicism, cultural studies, postcolonial and national studies, gender-and-sexuality studies, visual-culture studies, literary history, urban studies, history-of-the-book studies, and literary sociology. You will also improve your research skills, using the latest electronic technology as well as the most reliable traditional sources.

In "Walt Whitman's America" you will find out whether the "graduate-school experience" appeals to you. The format of this seminar will be similar to what you might encounter in graduate school (though the reading and writing assignments are less extensive). There are no exams, but you will be expected to perform the assigned reading and participate in seminar discussions. You will also present a "mini-lecture" once during the semester. Most of your efforts, however, will be aimed at producing a substantial work of scholarship: a 15-20 page research paper, hopefully of nearly-publishable quality. This will be accomplished in stages: 1. You will brainstorm in seminar and arrange at least one consultation meeting with me; 2. You will research and write a prospectus that describes your project; 3. Your prospectus will be critiqued and supplemented by two peers and by me; 4. You will present your major findings to the seminar and receive immediate group feedback; 5. You will meet with me at least once as you prepare the final manuscript for evaluation; and 6. I will return the annotated manuscript return to you with suggestions for future use in applications and/or publications.

Instructor: Dr. Pannapacker

Class Meetings: Wednesdays 6:00-7:50 PM

Location: Lubbers 203


  • Ezra Greenspan, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Walt Whitman. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Justin Kaplan, ed. Walt Whitman: Poetry and Prose. New York: Library of America, 1982.
  • David Reynolds. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography, New York: Vintage, 1996.
  • David Reynolds, ed. A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Gary Schmidgall, ed. Intimate with Walt: Selections from Whitman's Conversations with Horace Traubel, 1888-1892. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001.

  • All of the above are available at the Hope-Geneva Bookstore.


  • Attendance and participation in seminar discussions (20%).
  • One 20-minute mini-lecture plus Q&A (10%).
  • Research Paper Prospectus, 500-1,000 words plus bibliography (10%).
  • Two Peer Reviews of Prospectuses (10%).
  • Research Presentation, 15-20 minutes plus Q&A (10%).
  • Research paper 4,000-5,000 words in MLA Format, plus "Works Cited," about 15-20 pages (40%).
  • Extra Credit for bringing interesting relevant materials to seminar, effective use of consultations, and special contributions to last seminar.

  • Schedule

    NOTE: This schedule may change to adapt to the needs of the class; check this site for updates.


    CC: Ezra Greenspan, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Walt Whitman.

    HG: David Reynolds, ed. A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman.

    PP: Walt Whitman. Poetry and Prose.

    WWA: David Reynolds. Walt Whitman's America.

    IWW: Gary Schmidgall, ed. Intimate with Walt.

    August 27 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    Introduction to Walt Whitman
    Photos taken, sign-up for presentations and weekly questions, old papers returned, prize for most unusual photo awarded; we'll consider the structure, style, and meaning of "Song of Myself" and consider performances of Whitman (Beautiful Dreamers, Voices and Visions with Galway Kinnell, Orson Welles reading "Song of Myself," and an Edison cylinder recording of Whitman himself); we'll conclude with a group reading of "Song of Myself" that may go overtime (PP 27-88).

    September 3 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855), and the New Historicism
    Read "Walt Whitman, 1819-1892: A Brief Biography" (HG 15-42); "'I Contain Multitudes': The First Edition of Leaves of Grass" (WWA 306-338); "The 1855 Preface" (PP 5-26); "About Leaves of Grass" (IWW 71-82). Also read the introduction to Practicing New Historicism by Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt. In seminar, we'll see a slide presentation on Whitman and 19th-century American culture; we'll consider the major historical reference works relating to Whitman; and we'll also consider artifacts that demonstrate 19th-century pseudoscientific beliefs such as phrenology and animal magnetism.

    September 10 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    Emerson, Postcolonial Culture, and "American" Ideology
    Read "The American Scholar" by Ralph Waldo Emerson; "Appendix to Leaves of Grass, 1856" (PP 1326-1337); "Sweet Magnetic Man: Ralph Waldo Emerson" (IWW 216-221); "'The United States Need Poets': The Political and Social Crisis" (WWA 111-153); "I Hear America Singing" (PP 174), "Song of the Open Road" (PP 297-307), "A Song for Occupations" (PP 355-362), "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" (PP 371-375), "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" (PP 307-314); "Views of America" (IWW 161-170); "Whitman the Democrat" (HG 205-233); also read the excerpt from "American Literary Emergence as a Postcolonial Phenomenon" by Lawrence Buell.

    September 17 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    Whitman and the Visual Arts
    Carefully examine the "Images of Walt Whitman" online: http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/whitman/gallery/ ; Read "Walt on Images of Himself" (IW 39-43); "Appearing in Print: Illustrations of the Self in Leaves of Grass" (CC 135-165); "Whitman and the Visual Arts" (HG 153-204); "Toward a Popular Aesthetic: The Visual Arts" (WWA 279-305); "Introduction: The Nationalist Garden and the Holy Book" by Barbara Novak; "A Short History of Photography" by Walter Benjamin. In seminar, we'll also examine numerous examples of 19th-century American painting and photography.

    September 24 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    The Civil War, Lincoln, and Reconstructing an "Imagined Community"
    Specimen Days, Civil War Writings (PP 706-779); "Drum-Taps" (PP 416-458); "Memories of Washington and Secession War" and "Race" (IWW 179-188, 193-197); "Memories of President Lincoln" (PP 459-468); "Turned to a Generous Key: Abraham Lincoln" (IWW 189-192); "'My Book and the War are One': The Washington Years" and "Reconstructing a Nation, Reconstructing a Poet: Postbellum Institutions (WWA 413-494); "Fratricide and Brotherly Love: Whitman and the Civil War" (CC 27-44); Introduction to Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson. In seminar, we'll also screen a few segments from Ken Burns' The Civil War.

    October 1 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    Urban Studies and the Gilded Age
    "I Sit and Look Out" (PP 411), "Mannahatta" (PP 585-586); "Memories of Long Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan" (IWW 44-48); "What Whitman Knew" by David Brooks; "Democratic Vistas" (PP 929-994); "'The Ragged Edge of Anarchy': The Emotional Context of Urban Social Control in the Gilded Age" by Paul Boyer; "When New York was Really Wicked" by Herbert Asbury; "The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety" by Jane Jacobs. In seminar, we'll also consider the photographs of Jacob Riis and screen segments from Gangs of New York and New York: A Documentary History.

    October 8 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    Gender, Sexuality, and Censorship
    Read "Children of Adam" and "Calamus" (PP 248-287); "Expurgation" (IWW 113-115); "Affection, Love, and Sex (IWW 171-174); "Walt and His Boys" (IWW 147-153); "Walt's Big Secret" (IWW 154-157); "Purgatory Fields" (WWA 65-80); "The Woman Sex" (IWW 175-178); "'Being a Woman . . . I Wish to Give My Own View": Some Nineteenth-Century Women's Responses to the 1860 Leaves of Grass" (CC 110-134); "'Sex is the Root of It All': Eroticism and Gender" and "Brotherly Love, National War: Into the 1860s" (WWA 194-234, 383-412); "Whitman and the Gay American Ethos" (HG 121-151). "The Repressive Hypothesis" by Michel Foucault; "Conventionality and Comstockery" (WWA 530-545). In seminar, we'll also screen a segment from Voices and Visions: Walt Whitman. Next week's prospectus consultations scheduled this evening.

    October 15 (Wednesday): No Class; Monday Schedule in Effect. Prospectus consultations all week. Read "Prospects for the Study of Walt Whitman" by Ed Folsom before meeting.

    October 22 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203) Prospectuses Due (3 copies) We will talk about our research plans this evening and prospectus evaluations will be assigned.

    October 29 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    Leaves of Grass and the History of the Book
    "'The Murderous Delays': In Search of an Audience" (WWA 339-382); "Leaves of Grass and its Critics" (IWW 97-109); "Literary Studies and the History of the Book" by Michael Warner; "Literary Economics and Literary History" by William Charvat; "What is an Author?" by Michel Foucault. In seminar, we'll also examine various editions of Whitman's writings from the first edition to the present, along with comparable 19th-century books and periodicals. Peer Reviews of Prospectuses Due (2 copies).

    November 5 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    "The Good, Gray Poet," the Disciples, and the Sociology of Literary Taste
    Read "Prayer of Columbus" (PP 540-542), "A Backward Glance o'er Travel'd Roads" (PP 656-672); "Walt and His Inner Circle" (IWW 132-140); "The Burden of Atlas: The New America," and "The Pope of Mickle Street: The Final Years" (WWA 448-590); "'The Last Mile Drive'-The End," "'The Touch of Peace'-Mortuary," "The Burial House at Harleigh Cemetery," "The Last Hurrah-May 1919" (IWW 281-296); "The Field of Cultural Production" by Pierre Bourdieu. In seminar, we'll also examine selected examples of Whitman memorabilia or "Whitmaniana." Peer reviews of prospectuses returned.

    November 12 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    Research Presentations (alphabetical order)

    November 19 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    Research Presentations

    November 26 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    Research Presentations

    December 3 (Wednesday, 6:00-7:50, Lubbers 203)
    Whitman and Modern Poetry
    Read "Walt Whitman: Precipitant of the Modern" (CC 194-207); "Whitman and Modern Poetry" Collection. You are invited to bring food, assorted Whitmaniania, dress in a Whitmanesque manner, and read your own Whitman-inspired poems and parodies this evening. Be ready to identify your favorite Whitman poem or portion of a poem (or, perhaps, what you regard as Whitman's worst poem or line). We'll also screen a portion of Dead Poet's Society and listen to a recording of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and talk about Whitman's legacy. A portrait will be made of this year's "Walt Whitman Fellows."

    December 4-17: Individual Meetings. If you would like a consultation on your final paper (or you need to check a specific book or article that is not available elsewhere), please send me an e-mail note to arrange a mutually convenient time. I plan to be available for several hours each week day, and I am expecting to meet with every one of you at least once.

    December 17 (Wednesday): FINAL PAPERS DUE, English Department mailbox or under my office door (Lubbers 323), 5 PM. Annotated papers will be available for pick-up at the beginning of the spring semester (arrange an appointment by e-mail). If you would like your paper back sooner, please submit a self-addressed envelope with sufficient postage on it.

    Resources and Links

  • "I Sing the Body Electric": Walt Whitman on the Web

  • Images of Whitman

  • Mickle Street Review

  • Project Bartleby, Columbia University.

  • Walt Whitman Home Page at the Library of Congress.

  • Whitman and the Development of Leaves of Grass.

  • The Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive (University of Virginia).

  • Reviews of Walt Whitman (The Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive).

  • The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, Bibliography of Whitman Criticism, 1975-2002.

  • Graduate Program in Whitman Studies, Rutgers University, Camden, New Jersey.

  • Walt Whitman's America Fellows

    The Fellowship of 2001: Seated, William Pannapacker; left to right: Jaimie Lademan, Jennifer Peeks, James Fletcher, Katrina TeWinkle, Jyn McNamara, David Bos, Jill Spalding, Jennifer McNamara, Christine Lutz, Peter Derby, Kirsten Slotten, Josh Hauser, Aaron Keck, Craig Tommola, and Andrew Buchner.

    The Fellowship of 2003: Seated, left to right: Ann Marie Carlson, Laura Pearson, Marjorie Behm, Rachel Peckenpaugh. Standing, left to right: Timothy Kirkman, Rebecca Barry, Phillip Waalkes, Ryan Boes, Michael Griswold, Lauren Jensen, Nicholas Vidoni, Rebecca Eggenschwiler, Jason Kingma, Charity Barton, Diana Rosenhagen.

    Walt Whitman Around the World

    Tim Kirkman reading Whitman at Game 5, NBA Playoffs, round 2, Detroit Pistons vs. Philadelphia 76ers, The Palace of Auburn Hills
    ("Just as you are part of a crowd, so I was part of a crowd" --WW).

    Rachel Peckenpaugh reading Whitman in the canals of Venice. La dolche vita!

    Ann Marie Carlson reading Whitman in Paris at Shakespeare & Co. with George Whitman, who claims to be Walt Whitman's grandson!
    (I'm still looking for proof--send me an e-mail, please! He does resemble his alleged grandfather around the eyes--WP).