Fall 2017

Indigenous American Epics

Listed in: American Studies, as AMST-358  |  English, as ENGL-458


Lisa Brooks (Section 01)


(Offered as ENGL 458 and AMST 358)  [before 1800] 

This course will delve deeply into Indigenous literatures of “Turtle Island,” or North America, and will also extend to the Pacific.  The Quiché Maya Popol Vuh (Council Book), the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Great Law of Peace, the Wabanaki creation cycle, and the Hawaiian mo’olelo of Pele and her sister Hi'iaka are rooted in longstanding, complex oral narratives of emergence and transformation, which were recorded by Indigenous authors and scribes.  These texts will enable us to consider how the temporal and spatial boundaries of America are both defined and extended by colonization, and disrupted by Indigenous texts and decolonial theory.  We will close read these major epics as works of classical literature, narratives of tribal history, and living political constitutions.

 Reading each long text (in English translation) over several weeks, we will study the tribally and regionally-specific contexts of each epic narrative as well as the “intellectual trade routes” that link them together.  We will also consider the place of these epics within American literature and history and their contributions to historical and contemporary decolonization.  In exploring these narratives, we will discuss the ways in which they challenge conceptual boundaries, considering categories such as land/place, gender, sexuality, and other-than-human beings.

Open to juniors and seniors.  Limited to 15 students.  Fall semester.  Professor Brooks.

If Overenrolled: Preference given to junior and senior majors in English and American Studies and to students pursuing a Five College certificate in Native American Studies.


Attention to Research, Attention to Speaking, Attention to Writing, Transnational or World Cultures Taught in English


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2021