American Literary Traditions

Spring 2012

Dr. Bridget M. Marshall

University of Massachusetts, Lowell


This is a sweeping survey that covers texts from the “beginnings” of American literature (which may seem not very “American” at all) through to the very recent past (the year 2000 or so).  To be clear, this is pretty insane.  We’ll do the best we can.  Throughout the course, we’ll be thinking about why certain texts make it into the canon of American literature, and into this survey and other survey courses.  We’ll read a variety of kinds of texts, including private diaries, poetry, sermons, oral tales, short stories, letters, and other genres.  Why should we read these texts?  What insights do they provide?  What stories are we missing?  Why and how do editors of anthologies choose which authors and texts to include and exclude?  No one-semester survey of this literature could be complete; however, I have attempted to give you a breadth of authors, including both canonical works and voices from the margins that are equally interesting and informative.  By the end of the semester, you should have a firm grasp of the major themes and currents in American literary history.  And hopefully along the way, you’ll discover a few new writers that you will enjoy.


Class Meetings: Tuesdays and Thursdays 11 – 12:15

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 12:15 – 1:15 and by appointment in O’Leary Library 461

E-mail:       Web site:

Required Text: The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Shorter Seventh Edition.  ISBN: 978-0-393-93057-3

Course Goals:

þ    To gain a working knowledge of major figures, texts, and movements in American literary history

þ    To gain an understanding of canon formation – how and why works are included (or not) in our history

þ    To develop skills of close and careful reading

þ    To practice writing, both formally and informally, in response to texts

þ    To enhance discussion skills by participating in classroom discussion


Instructional Resources and Disability Accommodations:

The Centers for Learning and Academic Support Services provide many resources, including tutoring in writing; for more information, see:  In accordance with University policy and the ADA, I will provide accommodation for students with documented disabilities.  If you have a disability, please contact the Office of Disability Services as soon as possible.  The office is on North campus, Cumnock Hall C6, phone: 978-934-4574, e-mail: This documentation is confidential.


A note on classroom conduct:

In this class, and in all classes at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, students are expected to exhibit professional and respectful behavior that is conducive to a mutually beneficial learning environment in the classroom.  Examples of inappropriate behavior include: text messaging, listening to music, cell phone use (other than the campus alert system), late arrivals, early departures, use of laptops for other than class purposes, disrespectful comments or behavior, intentional disruptions, failure to follow faculty directives. Students in violation of these standards may be asked to leave class and/or be referred to the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.


University Cancellation Information: 978-934-2121, or check If the University closes, upon return to class, the items for both the missed class and the day of return class are due.  In the case of an exam or paper due on a day the University closes, the exam or paper is due on the day we return to class. 

Course Requirements: 

You are responsible for all the readings and assignments listed on this syllabus. 


Attendance is required. You have two “freebies,” no questions asked.  For every class beyond those two that you miss, your final grade for the class will be lowered one level (A to A-, A- to B+, and so on).


Good classroom citizenship is required. Good classroom citizenship begins with being prepared for class and goes beyond just “participation” in the sense of raising your hand a lot. It includes sharing your thoughts and actively listening to the comments of your peers.  Please be considerate of your classmates and make the classroom a space where everyone can speak their mind. As a courtesy to everyone in the room, please turn off your cell phone before class begins.

Course Assignments:

To make sure that everyone keeps up with the required readings, and to encourage class participation in discussions, during every class session a group of students (approximately 1/4th of the class most days) will be responsible for writing up one page of thoughts and questions about the reading.  I’ll provide more details on the specifics on this assignment.  The “one pagers” are due at the beginning of class. You will be responsible for writing four one-pagers.


There are two longer papers (4 to 5 pages each) due during the semester. I will provide more details on the paper requirements in separate handouts.


There is one in-class essay exam during class.  I will provide more information about the exam format closer to the exam date. 


There is a final exam, which will be administered during the final exam period, as scheduled by the registrar.

Evaluation and Grading:

Grading is my least favorite aspect of the course; however, grades are necessary, not only to the University, but also in many cases in order to motivate students.  I note each day’s attendance with a “check” in my grade book.  You will get credit for all quizzes and short writing that you complete and turn in to me.  Particularly active class participation or strong short writing assignments will earn a “check plus.”  Following is the value of the major graded assignments for the course:



If you have a concern about a grade or a question about your standing in the class, I am happy to talk with you.  This type of conversation is best suited to an individual conference.


A final note on grades: If you are determined to do only the minimal amount of work and get the minimum passing grade, this much is nonnegotiable: you are not eligible for a passing grade of D unless you have attended at least 11 of 14 weeks worth of classes, and completed 90% of the assignments. 

About Academic Honesty:

All University policies on academic dishonesty apply to all assignments in this course. The information below comes from the University’s official policy, which can be found online:

Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to:

1.              Cheating - use, or attempted use, of trickery, artifice, deception, breach of confidence, fraud, or misrepresentation of one's academic work.

2.              Fabrication - falsification or invention of any information or citation in any academic exercise.

3.              Plagiarism - representing the words or ideas of another as one's own work in any academic exercise.

4.              Facilitating dishonesty - helping or attempting to help another commit an act of academic dishonesty, including substituting for another in an examination, misrepresenting oneself, or allowing others to represent as their own one's papers, reports, or academic works.


If you plagiarize or cheat on an assignment in this course, you will receive an “F” for this course, and you are subject to other discipline (including expulsion from the University) at the discretion of the instructor and the University. Please keep in mind that even if you write some part or even “most” of the paper, if some portion of the paper is copied from another source without proper attribution, (i.e., if you “only plagiarize a little”) you will still get an “F” for the course.  Don’t plagiarize at all.


Unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism.  You must cite all sources that you use, including online sources.  Also, remember that “using” a source includes DIRECTLY QUOTING, PARAPHRASING, AND USING IDEAS from any source.  There is nothing wrong with “getting help” from other writers, just be sure to acknowledge it by using quotation marks or author/page citation appropriately.  Please take the time to give proper credit to the work of other authors.  It is a matter of respect – for yourself, for other authors, for your classmates, and for me.


I know that it is easy to find information and indeed whole papers on the internet.  You should know that it is also easy for me to find these sources.  If I suspect you’ve done this, I will take the time to find the source, and there is every likelihood you will be caught.  Please don’t waste your time or mine by plagiarizing a paper.  If you’re having difficulty with a writing assignment, please talk to me before the day it is due.


Semester Schedule:  If you miss a class, you are still responsible for what was due on the day(s) you missed and on the day you return. Please e-mail me if you have questions about assignments due for missed classes.


Due in class (reading completed)

Tuesday 24 January

First day Introductions; hand-outs

Thursday 26 January

Iroquois Creation Story: 17 - 21

Christopher Columbus: 24 – 28

Cabeza de Vaca: 28 - 36

Tuesday 31 January

John Smith: 43 – 45; “A Description of New England”:54 - 57

William Bradford: 57 - 65

John Winthrop: 75 – 76; “A Model of Christian Charity,” 76-87 (FOCUS ON: first five paragraphs and Section II)


Thursday 2 February

Mary Rowlandson: 117 -  134 (plus poem Holladay -- handout)

Anne Bradstreet: 97; “Author to her book,” “Before the Birth.” “Dear and Loving Husband,” “Upon the Burning of our House”: 106 - 110


Tuesday 7 February

Cotton Mather:  143 - 149

Jonathan Edwards: 168 - 170; “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” 194-206 (FOCUS ON: first five paragraphs, and “Application,” 98-205).

“American Literature 1700 – 1820,” 151 - 161


Thursday 9 February

Benjamin Franklin: 218 – 230 plus handouts

J Hector St. John de Crevecoeur: 309 – 323


Tuesday 14 February

Phillis Wheatley: 419 – 420; “On Being Brought” “To the University of Cambridge, in New England,” 420 - 421

Olaudah Equiano: 355 – 356; from Olaudah Equiano 357-368



Thursday 16 February

William Cullen Bryant: 475 – 476; “Thanatopsis” 477 – 478

Ralph Waldo Emerson: 488 – 491; “The American Scholar 520 - 531

Henry David Thoreau: 825 – 828; “Walden: Where I lived” 886 - 896


Tuesday 21 February

“American Literature 1820 – 1865”: 431 - 452

Washington Irving: 453 – 466


Thursday 23 February

Nathaniel Hawthorne: 589 – 592; “Minister’s Black Veil” 622 – 631; “Birth-Mark” 631 – 643


Tuesday 28 February

Edgar Allan Poe: 671 – 674; “Raven” 675 - 678; “Tell-Tale Heart” 702 - 705; “The Black Cat” 705 – 710


Thursday 1 March

Sojourner Truth: 761 - 762

Harriet Beecher Stowe: (excerpt) 764 - 776


Tuesday 6


Harriet Jacobs: 804 – 805; from Incidents: “Childhood” and “The Lover,” 805 – 812

Frederick Douglass: (excerpt) 920 - 937


Thursday 8




March 10 – 18th

SPRING BREAK (no class)

Tuesday 20 March

Emily Dickinson: 1197 – 1201 & selected poems as assigned (see assignment handout)


Thursday 22 March

In-class exam today

Tuesday 27 March

Rebecca Harding Davis: 1225 - 1254


Thursday 29 March

“American Literature 1865 – 1914”:1255 – 1269

W.D. Howells: 1463 - 1474

Kate Chopin: 1602 – 1603; “Desiree’s Baby” 1615 – 1618


Tuesday 3


Abraham Cahan: 1660 - 1669

Charlotte Perkins-Gilman: 1682 – 1694


Thursday 5


“American Literature 1914 – 1945” 1881 - 1896

Willa Cather: 1901 – 1903; “Neighbor Rosicky” 1903 - 1922


Tuesday 10 April

Robert Frost: 1951 – 1952; “The Pasture” 1952; “Mowing” 1953; “Out Out” 1962.

Susan Glaspell: 1967 – 1977

Thursday 12 April

William Faulkner: 2216 – 2217; “A Rose for Emily,” 2218 – 2223

Tuesday 17 April

Countee Cullen: 2283 – 2287

Carlos Bulosan: 2297 – 2303

Thursday 19 April

“American Literature since 1945” 2305 – 2318

Allen Ginsberg: 2590 – 2591;“A Supermarket in California” 2601 - 2602

Tuesday 24 April




Thursday 26 April

Robert Lowell: 2526 – 2528; “Mr. Edwards and the Spider,” “For the Union Dead” 2533 - 2538

Gwendolyn Brooks: 2537 – 2538; “the mother,” “The White Troops,” “We Real Cool” 2539 - 2540

Billy Collins: 2753 – 2754; “Forgetfulness,” “I Chop some Parsley” 2754 - 2756

Li-Young Lee: 2846; “Persimmons” 2846 - 2847

Tuesday 1


Alice Walker: “Everyday Use” 2771 – 2777

Thursday 3


Jhumpa Lahiri: 2857 – 28


As scheduled by the registrar




General Advice to Students:  Come to class prepared to work.  This means several things:

1) You should have completed the assigned readings, and any associated writing.  You might even have notes in your book, underlined passages, or page markers for interesting spots in the reading.

2) You should be prepared to listen and talk in discussion.  This means you shouldn’t come to our class and take a nap, or sit sullenly, or complete your calculus homework.

3) You should avoid distractions during class.  Distractions include things like small pets, cell phones and text messaging devices, notes to classmates, i-pods, or any other gadget that will engage your brain in something other than the academic discussion in the classroom.  While you may think I don’t notice, I do, and so do your classmates.  It’s distracting for you, but also for those around you.


When you don’t come to class (for whatever reason) it is your responsibility to find out the work that was missed, including any handouts, in-class activities, or changes to the syllabus.  If you can do this via e-mail before the next class meeting, that’s great.  If you can’t, you should definitely come speak with me before class, after class, or in my office hours.    In any case, don’t try to avoid me, hoping that I didn’t notice you were absent.


If you need extra time for an assignment, for whatever reason, it is better to ask early.  I do not automatically give extensions; however, I am a reasonable person, and you should ask for help or time if you need it. Late papers are subject to a grade reduction.  I do not provide comments on late papers.