Nicolaus Mills

BA, Harvard University. PhD, Brown University. Special interest in American studies. Author of Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America’s Coming of Age as a Superpower, The Triumph of Meanness: America’s War Against Its Better Self, Their Last Battle: The Fight for the National World War II Memorial, Like a Holy Crusade: Mississippi 1964, The Crowd in American Literature, and American and English Fiction in the Nineteenth Century. Editor of Getting Out: Historical Perspectives on Leaving Iraq, Debating Affirmative Action, Arguing Immigration, Culture in an Age of Money, Busing USA, The New Journalism, and The New Killing Fields. Contributor to The Boston Globe, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Newsday, The Nation, Yale Review, National Law Journal, and The Guardian; editorial board member, Dissent magazine. Recipient of fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, and the Rockefeller Foundation. SLC, 1972–

Undergraduate Courses 2017-2018

Literature

The Marriage Plot: Love and Romance in Classic American and English Fiction

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

“Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had,” Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre exclaims in the concluding chapter of Jane Eyre. Jane’s wedding may be quiet, but the steps leading up to her marriage with the man who once employed her as a governess are the opposite of quiet. By the time of Jane Eyre, we are far from the early marriage-plot novel in which suitors, proposals, and comic misunderstandings pave the way for a joyous wedding. This course is designed to follow the evolution of the marriage plot in classic 19th- and 20th-century American and English fiction. The course begins with Jane Austen’s Emma and ends with Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. In between, we will read six paired novels: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady, and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers.

Faculty

Previous Courses

The Literature of Fact: Journalism and Beyond—Reading and Writing the Nonfiction Essay

Open , Seminar—Year

A sample of the student's work is required for admission.

The aim of this course is to have students use their reading of nonfiction as a basis for writing nonfiction of their own. The essays written in this course will not be about the literature that we study but about topics that students choose that fall within categories such as the profile, the op-ed, and the review. The essays will come with deadlines for first drafts, rewrites, and final copy. The writers whom we read will include Tom Wolfe, Zadie Smith, George Orwell, Joan Didion, E. B. White, Maxine Hong Kingston, James Baldwin, and Malcolm Gladwell. We will begin with basic reportage and work our way up to long-form writing. The emphasis at the start of the course will be on technique; as we progress to longer assignments, our focus will be on the role that research, interviews, and legwork play in completing a story. The aim of the course, to paraphrase Tom Wolfe, is to produce nonfiction as lively as fiction. But this goal does not mean taking liberties with the truth. This is, above all, a course in the literature of fact. It is not for students with remedial writing problems and should not be taken if you are already taking another prose writing course.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Art and Fiction in America: Portrait of a Nation

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

Open to first-year students with permission of the instructor.

From 19th-century landscape painting to 20th-century photography, the work of America’s visual artists has paralleled that of its writers. This course will explore that relationship in terms of a series of artistic and literary masterworks. The course will look at art that is contemporaneous with the books that we read, as well as art that appears within the pages of American fiction. The aim of this approach is to trace how the visualizing of America was crucial to the conclusions that our artists and writers reached on a variety of issues that they saw defining the country. Among the artists whom we will study are Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, George Caleb Bingham, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sergeant, John Sloan, and Dorothea Lange. The literary masterworks will feature the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Zora Neale Hurston, J. D. Salinger, and Sylvia Plath. Students will begin their conference work by putting the classic 19th-century American novel in perspective through the study of a series of classic, 19th-century British novels.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Declarations of Independence: American Literary Masterworks

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

On July 4, 1845, Henry Thoreau began spending his days and nights at Walden Pond. His declaration of independence from the America in which he was living epitomizes a tradition of rebellion that goes to the heart of American literature. Time and again, America’s best writers have adapted the values of the American Revolution to their own purposes. In rebelling against religious orthodoxy, slavery, a market economy, and the relegation of women to second-class citizens—to name just a few of their targets—America’s prose writers have produced a tradition at odds with the country but consistent with the spirit of the Founding Fathers. Declarations of Independence will focus on this tradition in terms of American literary masterworks that feature the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Zora Neale Hurston, J. D. Salinger, and Sylvia Plath. Students will begin their conference work by putting the classic 19th-century American novel in perspective by looking closely at a series of classic 19th-century British novels. 

Faculty

The Nonfiction Essay: Writing the Literature of Fact, Journalism, and Beyond

Open , Seminar—Fall

The aim of this course is to have students produce a series of nonfiction essays that range from the profile to the review. We start with basic reporting and work our way up to long-form nonfiction. We will read a series of well-known nonfiction writers—among them Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, John McPhee, and Henry Louis Gates. But the reading that we do is designed to serve the writing. This is not a course in the history of the nonfiction essay; it is a course in writing. Students are assigned essays with deadlines for drafts, rewrites, and final copies. The assignments are not “class exercises” but those that any editor would give. The aim of this course, to paraphrase Tom Wolfe, is to produce nonfiction as lively as fiction; but we will not be engaged in “creative nonfiction” or covert autobiography. The writer’s subject, not the writer, is our primary concern. Accurate reporting is a nonnegotiable starting and finishing point. The course will begin by emphasizing writing technique; and as we move to longer assignments, our focus will be on the role that research, interviews, and legwork play in completing a story. This course is not for students with remedial writing problems or for students taking another writing course. A sample of your work is required for admission.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Declarations of Independence: American Literary Masterworks and Their British Counterparts

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

On July 4, 1845, Henry Thoreau began spending his days and nights at Walden Pond. His declaration of independence from the America in which he was living epitomizes a tradition of rebellion that goes to the heart of American literature. Time and again, America’s best writers have adapted the values of the American Revolution to their own times. In rebelling against religious orthodoxy, slavery, a market economy, and the relegation of women to second-class citizens—to name just a few of their targets—America’s prose writers have produced a tradition at odds with the country but consistent with the spirit of the Founding Fathers. Declarations of independence will focus on this tradition in terms of a series of American literary masterworks that feature the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Zora Neale Hurston, J. D. Salinger, and Sylvia Plath. Students will begin their conference work by putting the classic, 19th-century American novel in perspective by looking at a series of classic, 19th-century British novels.

Faculty