Alan Silva
Hamline University
Major Project
American Literature to 1860


The primary goal of this assignment is to give you a "hands-on" opportunity to design and develop a "textual studies" project that focuses on early America.  This project will allow you to connect your reading of early American literature to the broader realm of American culture.  It will also allow you to take your textual analysis skills and apply them to a wider variety of texts.


The topic for this project is your choice.  I have provided a fairly lengthy list of suggested topics to help you get started. You are welcome to select one of these topics or modify one of them to suit your own professional and personal interests.  You are also welcome to create your own project provided it has a similar scope to the ones listed below and makes an explicit connection to the literature and culture of early America.  All topics--taken from this list or not--must be given prior approval by the instructor.


I strongly encourage you to begin designing and developing your project right now.  I expect for you to make a "major" contribution to the field of early American study with your completed work.  This project also constitutes a large portion of your course grade.  I invite you to speak with me as often as you would like about this project.  Coming to office hours or making appointments with me are best, but you may also communicate with me by telephone or e-mail.  Chances are the more your project departs from the suggested topics, the more frequently you will need to talk with me about your ideas.

Major Project Proposal:

You will need to write no more than a one-page proposal of your proposed project.  I will not accept your project if you have not completed a project proposal and if you have not turned it in by the due date.  If you choose a topic from the list, provide the title of your selection, any modifications you have planned, and your progress on the project thus far.  If you create your own topic, briefly explain what you plan to do, and then indicate your progress on the project.

Proposal Due Date:  Wednesday, November 17

Major Projects Due:  Monday, December 6

Suggested Topics:

Note that the following topics do not provide details on the length of the project or the overall design of the finished product.  Those specific details will depend upon how you tailor the project.  Make your decisions, preferably in consultation with me, as you develop your ideas.

Create a Colonial Pamphlet:  Pamphlets were popular in both the 17th and 18th centuries.  They contained a variety of materials: aphorisms, maxims, lyrics, portions of sermons, revolutionary war propaganda, and so forth.  Design either a 17th- or 18th-century pamphlet based upon your knowledge of one of those eras.  Include materials that you have written yourself in the style of your selected period.  Attach a cover letter to your pamphlet describing your selections and explaining why you have included them.

Portrait of Early America:  Enter the "Archiving Early America" website at: http://www.  Follow the links under the "World of Early America."  Browse through the newspapers, maps, magazines, and portraits.  Then look at the conversations with the "Town Crier."  Create a portrait of "one day" in the 18th century by characterizing everyday life for the citizens of Revolutionary America.  You may do a verbal (written narrative), visual (painting, sketch), or technological portrait (design a web page).

Create a Syllabus:  Visit the Society of Early Americanists' homepage at: http://www.hnet.uci.
edu/mclark/seapage.htm.  Click on "Teaching Early American Materials" and then click "Syllabus Exchange."  Review some syllabi from other early American courses by reading them as "texts":  analyze one or two of them and describe the similarities and differences between our syllabus and the ones you have selected.  Then construct your own syllabus.  Write an essay that explains your selections, and then discusses the similarities and differences between our English 123 syllabus, the syllabi you reviewed, and the syllabus you created.

Immigrant Profile:  Visit the University of Minnesota's Immigration History Research Center (826 Berry Street near Highway 280 and University Avenue in St. Paul).  Browse through their collections of periodicals and other materials on American immigrants and ethnic history.  Construct a profile of one immigrant group that was living in Minnesota during the pre-Civil War era.  Describe the group in as much detail as you can and discuss their role in American life in relation to some of the other groups we have studied in English 123.

Early America in the Schools:  Go to one of our local primary or secondary schools and conduct classroom observations and interviews with teachers and students on the role of early America in the curriculum.  Hancock Elementary, our collaborative magnet school, would be a good choice for this project, but any of the public or private schools in the area also would work well. In an essay, explain what kinds of materials are taught, the methods teachers employ, and the learning outcomes for students.  Then discuss the relationship between the role of early America in the pre-collegiate setting in relation to the college-level classroom.

Analysis of Visual Culture:  Do a textual analysis of a few pieces of art work from early America and discuss their relationship to the verbal texts that you have read for English 123.  Several web sites will be helpful for this project.  One of the very best is Professor Laura Arnold's at:  Click on the "Gallery" and "Museum of Material Culture" sites.  The "Museum" provides excellent guidance on how to "read" art works.  See also the University of Virginia's Crossroads Project at:  Click on the "Museum" for the art works.  You might also want to visit the Reed College Web Museums at:

Photographic Essay:  Visit one of the historical sites in Minnesota.  Through photographs and words, discuss the site in terms of early Minnesota history and its relationship to the events that took place elsewhere in the country.  Some of the sites you might visit include, but are not limited to: Fort Snelling, Alexander Ramsey House, Minnesota History Center, Northwest Company Fur Post, Oliver H. Kelley Farm, American Swedish Institute, The Bakken: A Library and Museum of Electricity and Life, Hennepin History Museum, Sibley Historical Site, Minneapolis Institute of the Arts.  More information on these sites and others can be found at:

Church Profile:  Visit one of the area Christian churches, participate in some services, and interview clergy and regular churchgoers.  Create a detailed profile of the church and then describe the similarities and differences between its traditions and those that you have encountered in some of the religious literature we have studied in class.  Concentrating on one religious group and doing a straightforward comparison (i.e., 18th-century Quakers vs. modern day Quakers or 17th-century Puritans vs. modern day Congregationalists or Presbyterians) would probably work best for this assignment.

Music Recording and Analysis:  Find some songs from early America and record them using your own voice and musical talents. In an essay, analyze the songs using your skills of poetry analysis, discuss how this music functioned in early America, and then explain your own recording efforts.  You will probably want to find actual recordings of some of this early music to help you get started on this project.

Translation:  Find an original early American text in a language other than English and translate a portion of it.  Then in an essay discuss the problems you encountered translating it and, if an English translation already exists, explain the differences from this translation and yours.  Pay particular attention to the ways in which the word choice and phrasing of a translation affects textual analysis.

Popular Culture Portfolio:  Select a writer or character from our anthology and demonstrate how that figure has entered into popular culture.  Create a portfolio with such materials as cartoons, comic books, newspaper clippings, advertising blurbs, comments in magazines or from TV shows, etc.  Then in an essay discuss how popular culture has reshaped your selected figure and recreated this writer or character as a "text."

Biblical Interpretation:  Choose any early American text that uses a Biblical passage to develop its central argument or theme.  In an essay, discuss the ways in which the writer interprets the bible for his or her own purposes.  Then describe a couple of different ways to analyze the passage either from a different religious point of view (i.e., Mormon instead of Quaker) or through a different approach (i.e., feminist instead of traditional biblical studies).  Discuss finally how your different approaches would have affected the development of your selected text.

Creative Response:  Write some poems in response to Emerson's "The Poet."  In an attached essay, discuss in detail your understanding of Emerson's theory of poetry and explain how you attempted to respond to the theory.  Include as well your analysis of the effectiveness of the theory in helping you write your poems.

Witchcraft Parallels:  Write an essay that analyzes the connections between the Salem witchcraft trials and later examples of witchcraft in America.  Some possibilities: short stories by Hawthorne "Young Goodman Brown or "Alice Doane's Appeal";  novels Rachel Dyer, The Witches of Eastwick (also a film) or I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem; plays The Crucible or Tituba's Children; or films The Craft or Practical Magic. In your essay, discuss the similarities and differences between these different representations of witchcraft (some of which are close parallels to Salem and others not).  Note:  Another approach (or a complementary one) would be to attend a Wicca meeting and to interview a Wiccand to discuss the religious beliefs and practices of a modern-day "witch" and then compare that to the Salem witchcraft trials.

Soap Opera Digest:  Read Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple or Hannah Foster's The Coquette. (Portions of these novels are reprinted in our anthology; you may wish to read the headnotes on them before you get started on this project.)  Write a brief article in the vein of Soap Opera Digest where you describe all the goings on in the novel as if it were a contemporary television soap opera.  Then in a separate piece discuss the similarities and differences between your selected novel and modern-day soaps.

Detective  Parallels:  Write an essay that examines the connections between Poe's detective stories and later examples in the genre.  Samples from both genres can be found in popular literature (i.e., Agatha Christie) and in contemporary TV shows and movies.  Your essay should treat both the similarities and differences between Poe's fiction and the contemporary versions you have selected.

Native American Connections:  Read more of the Native American oral literature from our anthology and then read a contemporary novel or book of poems from a contemporary Native American writer.  In an essay, analyze the ways in which the contemporary text uses the oral literature.  Discuss as well the relationship between oral and print literature.  Note: An alternative (or complementary) approach would be to view Native American art or attend a Native American cultural event and then discuss the relationship between material culture and the printed texts you have read.

Representations of Slavery:  Write an essay that compares some of the different representations of slavery by choosing one printed text from an African American writer (Equiano or Douglass from our anthology would be a good choice) and some texts from material culture (paintings, handbills, paraphernalia associated with slavery).  Note: An alternative (or complementary) approach would be to analyze some of the non-African American representations of slavery (e.g., Melville's Benito Cereno, Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Spielberg's film Amistad).

Court Trial:  Write an imaginative legal transcript of a court trial for one of the figures who was either put on trial in early America (i.e., Martha Carrier) or who you would like to see put on trial.  In an afterword, explain why you chose the specific direction and outcomes of the trial and how your created text interacts with the original documents.

Making Early American Food:  Find a cookbook of early American foods and choose a recipe or two.  Make each dish and serve them to your professor.  Write an essay that analyzes the recipe as a "cultural text": describe the similarities and differences between the early American recipe and modern recipes and discuss your process for deciphering the recipe and making the dish.  Note: An alternative (or complementary) approach would be to take a recipe that you ordinarily make and then rewrite it as an early American recipe.  Cook this dish too and, yes, serve it to your professor, and then write an essay that analyzes your transformation and explains the differences between early American recipes and modern-day ones.