Fall 2017  -  Get temporary access to course materials (Amherst College and Five-college students only)

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 the literature of “Turtle Island,” or North America.  The Quiché Maya Popol Vuh (Council Book), the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Great Law of Peace, and the Wabanaki creation cycle are rooted in longstanding, complex oral narratives of emergence and transformation, which were recorded by Native authors and scribes.  Another oral narrative, the Diné (Navajo) Bahane’, was recorded and translated as recently as 1984 by a non-Diné scholar, who recognized the creation story’s literary significance as well as the tendency of anthropologists to “water down” its themes of transformation, sexuality and human fallibility.   We will close read these major epics as works of “ancient American” 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.

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


2017-18: Offered in Fall 2017
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2016