Mark Kamrath
University of Central Florida

American Literature I

For some twenty-five years, from the close of World War II through the 1960s ... a certain evolutionary literary coherence, even progress, was presumed to be demonstrable, as instructors and critics located in prose and poetry the growing expressions of democratic consciousness and of such values as individualism and self-reliance. . . . This postwar epoch in American literary study, however, began to undergo major revaluation in the 1970s, when scholars pointed out that the canonical texts thought to constitute American literature excluded the cultural record of indigenous peoples, ethnic and minority groups, women, and non- Anglo colonial powers.... Suffice it to say that for the past twenty- five years, every term in the title of this essay and every ramifying subcategory has undergone dynamic, radical change.

Cecelia Tichi, "American Literary Studies to the Civil War" in Redrawing the Boundaries (1992)


As the above passage indicates, the canon and teaching of early American literature are undergoing fundamental "radical change."  This course is designed to introduce you to a wide variety of literature from the period of colonization to the mid-19th century, including works representing some of the diverse ethnic and racial strands of our literary heritage as well as texts by women writers frequently excluded from literary collections.  Naturally, we will become familiar with the historical and cultural circumstances surrounding the production of a given piece of literature, and also explore the development and expression of some fundamental ideas--assumptions, myths, and beliefs--that still influence the ways Americans think about themselves and their society.  In addition to examining the historical and ideological contexts of a range of prose, poetry, and fictional works, we will closely examine their aesthetic dimensions and practice ways of identifying variant themes and rhetorical strategies.

This entire process will necessarily ask you--and me--to be open to a variety of intellectual and pedagogical perspectives, to be "active learners."  Thus, beyond being invited to relate readings and discussion to your past and present life experiences and to mark up the margins of your anthology, we will seek to create an environment which is collaborative, which values both self- learning and the communal construction of knowledge.


The Heath Anthology of American Literature, 3rd ed., vol 1, Paul Lauter et al. (New York: D. C. Heath & Co, 1997).


1.) Participation: 10% of grade.
Small and large group exercises and discussion are central to this course.  Simply being in class and listening will earn you a "C' for this part of the course.  Active participation or improvement in this area will earn you a higher grade as will the thoughtful questions and answers.  Participation in small group exercises, the Quaker meeting, panel discussions, and other such activities are opportunities for you demonstrate your interest in, and knowledge of, the material.

2.) Course Portfolios, which consists of quizzes, reading journals, etc.: 25% of grade.
Reading is an active and engaged dialogue with the text, and frequently involves the use of a pen or pencil to note reactions, jot down questions, or to simply underline something and say "amen."  It involves an awareness of one's "inner dialogue," i.e., of your personal response to the text as well as your insights about the ways texts relate to one another, the period in which they were produced, or even events and issues in our own time.  In terms of journaling, then, I am looking for an informal 1-2 page response to the reading (whether it is assigned by me, your peers, or is of your own choosing). I do not want mere summaries of the works, but I am looking for detailed, specific explanations of your thoughts with an emphasis on using evidence (quoted material) from the text.  I will frequently raise specific issues or problems for you to look for in upcoming readings, and for the sake of variety we will sometimes exchange journals or write for a different audience, e.g., a member of the class. Journal entries will usually be collected after each class period (unless otherwise noted), and returned with informal comments at the end of the week; all jounrals, quizzes, etc. will be formally evaluated as part of a portfolio two times during the course,of the semester.  Regular, thorough, and insightful journals will generally earn an "A!' while habitually missing, late, or incomplete entries will lower your grade.  (Note: I will ask that the content of these journals be integrated into brief essays concerning the various sections in our reading schedule).  Finally, we will occasionally have a quiz on various terms or concepts related to the study of early American literature, e.g., late Enlightenment, transcendentalism, etc.  Such quizzes will be part of your portfolio grades.

If you are uncertain during the course of the semester about how you are doing with this aspect of the course, please stop by and see me during office hours.

3.) Short Paper: 20% of grade.
This paper should be a 5-6 page typed essay on a topic of your choice, i.e., a text or texts from the anthology not assigned in the syllabus and which relates to, or develops, some idea or issue we discussed in class. Paper proposal required.

4.) Examinations (cumulative), two including the Final Exam:
First examination:       20%
Second examination:  25%

5.) Lastly, in terms of assigning grades I typically use the following scale:
F--.5 and below


Since the rest of us will depend on your work and it is not possible to make up classes that you miss, three or more absences are grounds for lowering your grade.  For example, if you have five absences (regardless of the reasons), your final grade will be lowered one full grade, e.g., from a "B" to a "C," seven absences two grades, and so on.  If you have eleven absences, you will fail the course, regardless of what grade you have.  If absolutely necessary, the two allowed absences should be used for days when you are sick, or have some emergency or special obligation; the decision is up to you, and you don't have to explain your reasons for absence.  In fact, it is best if you don't.  The absence policy takes into account car problems, traffic accidents, computer (and printer) problems, death, mono and other hard to diagnose illnesses, etc. In short, if you find yourself having excessive absences, you should know that you will not pass the course.

If you think you'll have a problem getting to class on time, consider taking another course. Your classmates and I would like to start--and end--class on time.  Being habitually late for class will count as an absence.  Also getting your name on the sign-up sheet which goes around each meeting is your responsibility.  I will not accept "but it didn't get to me" or 'I forgot . . . "  Besides verifying absences upon request, the only time I will look at attendance records is after each examination and at the end of the course when I am calculating final grades.

Students who have perfect attendance will, of course, favorably impress the instructor and get the "benefit of the doubt" when it comes to a "close grade."

Academic Integrity:

Often students plagiarize because they fear trying out their own ideas, they have not left themselves adequate time for an assignment, or they simply don't know how to credit a source.  However, plagiarism--the submission of someone else's words or ideas as your own--is a serious offense.  You can fail the course or be disciplined by the university for such action (please refer the appropriate section in your Undergraduate Catalogue). The consequences of plagiarizing are not worth the risk. If you have questions about how to document sources, please see me or the Writing Center.

University Writing Center:

The Writing Assistance Center, staffed by the Department of English, exists to help those with concerns or questions they may have about all kinds of writing.  Regardless of the course your writing is for, they can assist you with the beginning stages of writing, with effectively developing your thesis or ideas, and with mechanics and matters of revision and proofreading.  I encourage all of you to make the Writing Center a key part of your university education.  It offers individual help, free of charge, and is located in LS 616 (trailer by SARC & Biological Sciences).  You can set up an appointment by dropping in, or by calling 823-2197.


The first week of the course and the last will be used for winding things up and then winding them down.  The following schedule is subject to revision, and aims to give you a general idea of how the course is intended to shape up.  (Note: journal or other assignments related to readings will usually be assigned the class period before such reading is to be completed.)


Week I (Jan. 6-8):
W--INTRODUCTION: Politics of Defining the Canon
"Preface to the First Edition' (xxxiii-xliii); Introduction (3-10) (21-27); "ne Origin of Stories" (56-58)

Week 2 (Jan. 11-15):
M--"Raven Makes Girl Sick and then Cures Her" (67-69); "Creation of the Whites" (116-17)
W--"Tales of . . Resistance and Reconquest in New Spain" (465-66) "The Coming of the Spanish and the Pueblo Revolt' (483-87)
Cultures in Contact: Voices from the Imperial Frontier (110-15); Columbus, from Journal of the First Voyage to America (117-28)

Week 3 (Jan. 20-22):
W--Champlain (173-78); The Black Robe (excerpts from film)
F--continue film; de Aviles, "Letters" 147-55

Week 4 (Jan. 25-29):
"The Colonial Period: to 1700" (10-20); "Cultures in Contact: Voices from the Anglo- Americans 'New' World" (179-81); Disney and Smith, from The Generall History; from A Description of New England (184-94); Frethorne, "Letter to His Parents'" (207-11)
W--Bradford, from Of Plymouth Plantation (245-60); Morton, from New Enplish Canaan (211-22)
F--continue Bradford and Morton; Bradstreet poems (289-94, 305-09)

Week 5 (Feb. 1-5): THE "PURITAN DILEMMA":
M--cont. Bradstreet (312-15); Taylor poems (to be selected)
W--Rowlandson, from A Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration (340-66)
F--Mather, from The Wonders of the Invisible World (419-25); "Eighteenth Century: 1700-1800" (503-06); "Tradition and Change in Anglo-America" (527-29); Edwards, (569-72), from Personal Narrative (581-93)

Week 6 (Feb. 8-12):
M--Edwards cont., "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (592-03); Quaker Meeting: Ashbridge, from Some Account of the Early Part of the Life of Elisabeth Ashbridge (604-15)


W--REVOLUTIONARY ERA: EUROPEAN TIES & TENSIONS: "A Selection of 18th c. Poetry" (636-40); Cook, "The Sot-weed Factor; or, a Voyage to Maryland, &c" (641-57)
F--Enlightenment Voices, Revolutionary Visions" (714-16); Franklin, (717-19), from The Autobiography (762-818)

Week 7 (Feb. 15-19):
M--cont. Franklin; Paine, from Common Sense (882-83), from The Age of Reason (896-901) [Franklin trial--optional]
W--John Adams and Abigail Adams "Letters,' (to be selected)
F--Jefferrson, "Declaration of Independence'"(916-22); Freneau, "A Political Litany" & "To Sir Toby"

Week 8 (Feb. 22-26):
M--Mid-term Examination
W--"Contested Boundaries, National Visions" (968-71); Wheatley, (1095-96), (poems to be determined)
F--SENTIMENTAL AND ROMANTIC IMPULSES: Foster, from The Coquette, or, the History of Eliza Wharton (1194-1214). (Deadline for Withdrawal)

Week 9 (March 1-5):
M--Brown, "Somnambulism" (1226-40); Irving, (1232-33), "Rip Van Winkle" (1242-53)
W--Cooper, from The Pioneers (1402-24) and from The Last of the Mohicans
F--Poe, (1440-42), 'A Review: Twice Told Tales' (1524-28); "Ligeia!' (1450-60)

Week 10 (March 8-12):
M--Poe poems, "Sonnet--To Science" (1502), "Romance" (1507), "The Raven' (1514-17) (C. Watkin audio reading of Poe)


W--TRANSCENDENTALISM: OR, FURTHER EXPLORATIONS OF THE AMERICAN SELF: Emerson (1578-81),'T'he Poet" (selections); Emerson poems, "Merlin," "Hamatreya," "Ode, Inscribed to W. H. Channing"
F--"Early Nineteenth Century Literature: 1800-1865" (1275-1286); Emerson, "The American Scholar" (1609-21)

Week 11 (March 15-19): Spring Break

Week 12 (March 22-26):
M--"Nature" (selected), Emerson's "Self-Reliance"(1622-37)
W--Thoreau (2090-92), "Resistance to Civil Government" (2012-29), Walden (selected pages)
F--ROOTS OF REFORM: WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE AND SLAVE NARRATIVES, "Early Nineteenth Century Literature: 1800-1865" (1286-1308); Grimke sisters, from Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Women (2024-30)

Week 13 (March 29-April 2):
M--cont. Grimke, from Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1945-53); Stanton, from Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, "Declaration of Sentiments" (2031-36).
W--Douglass, start student symposium on slave narratives: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1751-1818)
F--cont. symposium; Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1837-62)

Week 14 (April 5-9):
M--finish symposium
W--Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin
(No class 10:30-12:30 on April 7)
"The Flowering of Narrative" (2188-94); Hawthorne, (2190-93), "Young Goodman Brown" (2207-15). Short Paper due (draft)

Week 15 (April 12-16):
M--Melville, "Benito Cereno" (2454-2511) and "Amistad" (film excerpt)
W--cont. 'Benito Cerino'
"The Emergence of American Poetic Voices" (2648-50); Bryant, (2670-73), "To a Waterfowl" (2675), "The Prairies' (2677); Longfellow, "A Psalm of Life" (2699- 2701); Whitman, (2725-28), "Song of Myself"--selections (2758-2809)

Week 16 (April 19-23):
M--continue Whitman (additional selections); Portfolio due
W--Course evaluation; "Voices and Visions" film on Whitman; Short Paper (final draft) due
F--continue film; Dickinson handout

Final Examination Period: to be announced