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Covers, Titles, and Tables: the Formations of American Literary Canons

ResearchCommons/Manakin Repository

Covers, Titles, and Tables: the Formations of American Literary Canons

 

The American "canon wars" raged during the 1980s. These wars pitted critics who wanted to conserve the established canon of works -- the "classics" -- against those who argued for a more "representative" canon, including more women and "minority" authors and a more diverse genre mix. Spirited skirmishes continue today in literature classes, libraries, bookstores, publishing houses, board of education meetings, and even in political debates. Though these debates may seem to be late 20th- early 21st-century phenomena, heated discussions about which works of American literature should be studied and passed on to the next generation have raged since at least the early 19th century.

Our collection of more than 100 tables of contents-- supplemented by selected covers and prefaces-- reproduced from anthologies and selected histories offers a convenient window to the history of literary canon formation in the United States from 1829 to the present. We hope that the collection will benefit scholars, teachers, and students of American literature and culture, as well as academic administrators, librarians, book dealers, publishers, members of boards of education, politicians, and anyone curious about how American arbiters of culture attempt to profile America by gathering, organizing, and defining selections from our literary heritage.

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