American Literature I: Digital Document Assignment

Each student will choose one primary source document found on the internet.  The document should be from (or at least about) America and date from any time before 1865.  In all cases, you should use a site that provides a full reproduction of the original – in other words, a scanned copy, not merely a typed transcript.  In most cases, your document should be a piece of written text, although it may include illustrations.  If you find a particularly interesting image, I will consider it.

Once you have found a document (or a few documents) that interests you, you should E-
MAIL ME for approval to move forward with your plans.  In your e-mail you should send me:

The due date for finding a document and e-mailing me for approval is Friday, October 19th.  This early deadline is necessary to allow time for me to view and approve the document, and allow enough time for you to find another document (if necessary) and work on the project.  Note that this date is NOT a day when our class meets.  You must e-mail me by midnight on Friday, October 19th to get credit for completing this element of the assignment on time.  Please don’t wait until the last minute.  I strongly recommend that you start looking at the sites and searching for a document that interests you as soon as possible. 

I will respond to your e-mail as soon as possible, and definitely within a week of the deadline to let you know whether you should go ahead with this document or find another. 

Once you have an approved document, there are two things you will need to do:
1) create a short (5-minute) presentation on your document  DUE: EITHER October 30th or November 1st, as assigned in class
2) Write a paper on your document DUE: Final Exam period

The Digital Document Assignment will serve several purposes:

Where to start this project:
At my web site, you will find a listing of appropriate web resources:
For the Digital Document activity, I recommend that you start with one of these sources.  Remember that before you proceed with your write-up, you must check with me for document approval (see details above).

Based on previous students’ experiences, I recommend AGAINST using google or a general search engine as a starting place for this project.  The best place to begin this project is from my online list of suggested web sites.

Once you have approval for your document, take a look at the other two handouts.  One details the requirements for the Presentation, the other explains the Written Report.

Information on this assignment (and other information) is available on my website under “information for current students”:  I have also included a few samples of Digital Document Assignment papers from Fall 2006 so you can get some ideas.

American Literature I: Digital Document Assignment
Class Presentation Requirements

Before you begin your plans for the presentation, make sure I have approved your document!

Your presentation will happen on either Tuesday, October 30th or Thursday, November 1st, as assigned in class.  Please be sure you have noted your correct presentation day.  Please make every effort to be present and on time for this class session so that we will have enough time to move through all the presentations.  If you must miss class due to illness, please contact me by e-mail as soon as possible, and please be prepared to give your presentation upon your return to class.

Your presentation to the class on your document should be brief – about five minutes.  If you start going beyond that time, I will have to cut you off so that we can be sure to fit in all the presenters.  You do not have to have your Written Report complete at this time.  In fact, the presentation can be a place where you can ask your classmates questions about the document, and where they can ask you questions about the document that will help you strengthen your ideas for the written report.

On the day of the presentation, you should bring at least one copy of the document to class.  Please use the highest resolution printing possible.  This may require more than one page.  Your copy does not need to be in color; however, if you have access to a color printer, that would be ideal.  I will collect the hard copies that you bring to class, so please put your name on them.  Please note: if your document is particularly long (an edition of a novel, for instance), you do not have to print out the entire thing.  See me about your concerns regarding document length and size.

I’ll ask you to share your document (by passing it around the classroom) and talking about it.  Here are some things you could cover in your talk:

  1. What is the document?  (You could go into a lot of detail here.)
  2. Where did you find it? (You could also talk about the merits of the web site you used.)
  3. How did you find it?  
  4. Why did you choose it?
  5. What seems interesting or notable to you about it?
  6. How does it connect with any text(s) we’ve read (or will read) in class?
  7. What questions or concerns do you have about your document?  What challenges does it present as you move forward with your final paper?


The presentations will vary in focus, depending on the document.  Each document will provide unique challenges; please feel free to speak with me if you have concerns or questions about what to do with your particular document.  Consider the presentations an opportunity to share your own work so far, but also a chance to hear from your peers about how they are approaching the project.

We will move through the presentations in chronological order based on the documents.  Ideally, as we move along, the will be able to make connections between the different documents.  During both sessions, the audience is welcome to ask questions and to make connections among the various presentations.

American Literature I Digital Document Assignment
Written Report Requirements

Before you begin working on your report, be sure I have approved your document! Please keep in mind that this assignment is your final exam.  It is your chance to show what you have learned in the course.  It is your final chance to impress me with thoughtful, clear, detailed writing.

Below you will find a listing of all the information I would like to see in your final report.  You should NOT reproduce these headings; your paper should read like an essay, not a list of answers to questions.  You do not have to present these items in the order they appear here; however, all of the items listed below MUST appear in your paper somewhere. You should organize your paper in a way that makes sense to you and for your specific document.  Please check and double-check your URLs to ensure that they are correct so that I can find your sources.  Other than the first four items, your responses should be developed paragraphs, written in formal prose.  You may (and should!) use “I,” particularly when you’re talking about how you found the document.

  1. Student’s name
  2. Date
  3. Main Source: Including the site’s name, URL, and source/creator (such as a library, an individual, a private company, etc.)
  4. Title of the specific document, including name and URL
  5. Describe the document, including author, date, place of original publication, physical traits (handwritten, printed, notes in the margins, stains, etc.)
  6. Describe and discuss the document’s contents:  This will include an analysis both of what the document says and how it says it.  You should attend to matters of fact and of style.  Look at the details and the tone of the language.  For this portion of the paper, you should use quotations from the source to support your observations and claims.  This is the “close reading” part of the assignment – we’ve practiced this in class, in your response papers, and in your mid-term paper.  This section should be the most developed part of your paper to show your skills as a careful, attentive, and thoughtful reader.
  7. Explain how you found the document and why you chose it. “It’s the first one I found” is not the best answer.  Ideally, I’m interested in your finding a document that speaks to you in some way, one that you actually have something to say about, or one that you found particularly interesting, curious, or whatever.
  8. Document Importance Discuss why you think this document is interesting and important.  Why does it matter to American history, to American literary history, and perhaps to our class?  You might think of this as a place to make a case for this document to be included in our study for the class. 
  9. Document’s Connection to the Course: This is the place where you can make connections with some of the themes we’ve studied in class, and even with specific readings assignments from the course.  You are welcome (and encouraged) to quote and cite other readings for comparison/contrast.  This section may go on for a few paragraphs, depending on how many connections you see with the course readings.
  10. Web site Evaluation  Evaluate the web site where you located this source.  You might discuss the creator (is it a library, a University, a foundation?) and discuss issues of design.  Was it easy to find?  Easy to navigate?  Are there other interesting things at this site?  How well is the document framed?  Is there identifying information?  Is there contextualizing information?

American Literature I: Digital Document Assignment
Evaluation Rubric

Name of Student & Document:

Needs work



Completed Approval process on time (e-mail including all information)




Presentation: Preparation: printed document ready to go, all notes and information ready at the start of class




Presentation: Content: Covers the points listed on the handout, presents useful information and analysis




Presentation: Presentation skills and timeliness: keeping under 5 minutes & staying on point




Presentation: Thoughtfulness: Information provided shows thoughtful analysis and an interest in the content




Presentation: Participation: Engaged in listening to other presentations, making appropriate comments or posing questions




Comments on Presentation:



Assessment Survey completed on time




Written Paper: Coverage: Covered all items included on requirements handout in sufficient depth.




Written Paper: Analysis: provided thoughtful analysis of the document itself, including contextual information and close reading of the content




Written Paper: Document Selection: The choice of document is clear, thoughtful, and somehow connected to the student’s own goals or interests, and explained appropriately in the analysis.




Written Paper: Explanation of Document Importance: The paper explores why this document is valuable and interesting, and how it fits into (or doesn’t fit into) the canon of American literature.




Written Paper: Evaluation of source: Thoughtful analysis of the website source where the document was found. 




Written Paper: Writing: The paper is written in clear, thoughtful, error-free prose with good detail and clarity.




Comments on Written Paper: