Literature of the early Colonial period to the Civil War

Spring 2008
Famer Education Building 212
Section 33500: TTh 10:40-11:55


I. Course Description

II. Learning Outcomes
III. Course Requirements and Policies
III. Grading Procedures
IV. Academic Integrity
V. Accommodations for students with disabilities
VI. Course Schedule
VII. Recommended Reading and Resources Online


Instructor: Michael Pfister

Office: G. Homer Durham Language & Literature Building (LL320)

Office Hours: T/Th 9:00-10:00; W, 11:00 - 12:00 + by appointment

Grades Given: A, B, C, D, E (+/-)

Required Texts:
Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vols. A & B. New York: Norton 2007

I. Course Description

This course engages the literary and cultural movements that shaped America from the early colonial period to the Civil War. Ideas of sovereignty, epistemology, and slavery permeated the socio-political conception of “America” as both a nation and an ideal throughout these years, and the course will examine how the literature from the period reflects and perpetuates this ideal. Similarly, we will consider the protean nature of “America” as the term evolved from the earliest encounters between Europeans and Native Americans to more firmly-established national entity, The United States of America. The course will explore a variety of texts and literary forms, including: captivity narratives, ex-slave narratives, gothic tales, romances, political writings, lyrical and narrative poetry, etc. In addition, the course will make connections to present-day society, noting the persistent trends that define and shape a global-American culture.

II. Learning Outcomes

  • Broadening of your cultural background and historical awareness, particularly with relation to moments of contact between “different worlds”
  • Cultivation of multi-disciplinary perspectives
  • Discussion of a variety of literary genres including ex-slave narratives, the romance, the gothic tale lyric and narrative poetry.
  • Improvement of skills in close reading, critical discussion and evaluation & construction of oral and written arguments.

III. Course Requirements and Policies:

1. Class attendance and participation: I expect that you will attend all classes. Because I understand that accidents and illnesses happen, I allow four absences. Any missed classes over the four absence limit will constitute unauthorized absences, and every unauthorized absence will reduce your final grade. If you incur four or more absences, your grade will be lowered or you could be dropped from the course at my discrestion. Further, participation in class discussions and peer workshops is a very important part of this class, and I try to structure the course in ways that encourage your participation. Examples of participation include asking questions about readings, offering comments about readings, answering questions I pose in class, and contributing in group work. Finally, I expect that you will help to create an environment conducive to learning and meaningful discussion. To this end, please do not bring food to class (drinks are permissible), and do not talk out of turn or behave disrespectfully toward other members of the class. If you cannot follow these guidelines, points may be deducted from your attendance/participation grade, and you may be asked to leave the class.

2. Assignments:

A) Readings:You are responsible for completing all readings by the date due on the syllabus. Please do not consult online study guides like Sparknotes or internet resources like Wikipedia for help with readings. Instead, if you want to know about the reading's context, read the introduction in the Norton Anthology, and if you are struggling, contact me and I can help you access resources to facilitate your learning. To ensure that everyone is completing assigned readings, I may give quizzes.

B) Student Led Class Discussions:As a group students will present on the readings that are due for the week.

C) Papers: You will write two short (3-4 pp) papers and one longer research based paper for this class on topics assigned by me. For the short papers I prefer that you not consult outside sources. They are to represent your own original ideas, and no research is required for you to do well on them. However, for the final paper in the class some research is expected and encouraged. You must endeavor in your papers to go significantly beyond our class discussions. Papers that merely repeat conversations we've had in class or that give me my lecture notes back in essay form will not receive a grade higher than C.

D) Blackboard Postings: You will be asked to post a series (4) of short responses to our Blackboard coursesite throughout the semester.

E) Mid-term exam: You will take one mid-term exam in this class. I do not offer make-up exams, I do not give out study guides, and I will not take time away from regularly scheduled classes to offer review sessions. If you miss taking an exam, you will receive a zero for it. In the event you suffer a genuine personal crisis (e.g., a death in your immediate family, or an illness or accident requiring hospitalization), I may allow a make-up exam to be taken during finals week. If such a situation arises, please contact me during my office hours, or via phone or email.

III. Grading Procedures:

Grading Breakdown:

Short Writing Assignment #1
Short Writing Assignement #2
Final Writing Assignment
Blackboard Postings (25x4)
Student Led Class Discussion
Attendance and Participation


150 pts



Grade Scale:


A 4.0
A- 3.7
B+ 3.3
B 3.0
B- 2.7
C+ 2.3
C 2.0
D 1.0
E .03

IV. Academic Integrity

Academic Honesty is governed by the Arizona State University Honor Code. According to the ASU Student Handbook, Honor Code Infractions include cheating, stealing, and lying related to academic matters. I will deal with any infractions using the Procedures outlined in the Handbook.

V. Accommodations for students with disabilities

I make every effort to offer appropriate academic accommodations for students with disabilities. Please make requests for academic accommodations during the first three weeks of the semester.

VI. Tentative Course Schedule (May change to accommodate class progress and student needs)

You are responsible for knowing about any updates or changes to this schedule. Please see the external links page for historical context and for research purposes. As well, see the documents section of Blackboard for my lectures and student led discussion powerpoint / PDF's.

January 15 -----Class Introduction; Syllabus overview

January 17 -----Syllabus overview (cont.); reading assignments; Beginnings to 1700

The Marvels of Spain and America

January 22 -----Columbus: "Letters," 31-35; Cabeza de Vaca: "The Relation of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca," 40-48

January 24 -----John Smith: "The General History of Virgina," 55-72

January 29 -----Pima Creation Story ; Genesis 1-11

An Expanding World and Universe

January 31 -----William Bradford: "Of Plymouth Plantation," 104-120; Thomas Morton: "New English Canaan," 138-147; The Bay Psalm Book, 167-173; Blackboard Posting #1

February 5 -----John Winthrop: "The Journal of John Winthrop;" Peer Review for Paper #1


February 7 -----Mary Rowlandson: "A Narrative of Captivity and Restoration," 235-267

February 12 -----Cotton Mather: "The Wonders of the Invisable World," 307-313; Samuel Sewall: "The Diary of Samuel Sewall," 288-303; Short Paper #1

February 14 -----Benjamin Franklin: "The Way to Wealth," 449-457; John Woolman: "The Journal of John Woolman," 587-595

An American Rennaisance?

February 19 ----- Group discussion of quotes

February 21 ----- Federalist Papers, 665-674; Thomas Paine: "Common Sense," "The Age of Reason," etc., 629-649; set-up presentation groups.

February 26 ----- Phillis Wheatley: selected works; Washington Irving: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," 965-985

February 28 ----- Native Americans: Removal and Resistance, 1252

                          Blackboard Posting #2

March 4 ----- Nathaniel Hawthorne: "Rappaccini's Daughter," 1332-1352; "Wakefield,"1298-1304; "The Birth Mark" 1320-1332

March 6 ----- Mid Term Exam


March 10-14 ----- No Class (Spring Break)


March 18 ----- Edgar Allen Poe: "The Fall of the House of Usher," 1553-1566; Slavery, Race, and the Making of American Literature, 1682. ENG241_paper2

March 20 -----Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 1808-1822

March 25 ----- Frederick Douglass: My Bondage and My Freedom, 2129-2140; "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? 2140-2143

March 27 ----- Short Paper #2

                       Blackboard Posting #3

April 1----- Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Nature," 1106-1122

April 3 ----- Henry David Thoreau: "Resistance to Civil Government," 1853-1872

April 8 ----- Walt Whitman: "Preface to Leaves of Grass, 2190-2209; "Song of Myself," 2210-2232


April 10 ----- Herman Melville: Moby Dick, 2304-2308; 2320-2337

April 15 ----- Herman Melville: Moby Dick, 2337-2362


April 17 ----- Research Day

                     Blackboard Posting #4

April 22 ----- Herman Melville: Moby Dick wrap-up; Bartleby the Scriviner; 2363-2389

                     Emily Dickinson Introduction

April 24 ----- Emily Dickinson: Selected Poems: Poem #'s- 479,448,656,591,260,1096

April 29 ----- Wrap-up and evaluations

                     Term Paper Due (via Digital Dropbox by midnight)

VII. Recommended Reading and Resources

Norton Anthology of American Literature Student Website
The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, Kenneth G. Wilson
The Elements of Style, Strunk & White
The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing
OWL at Purdue
Writing in College from U. Chicago
Writing Resources Center at William and Mary
English Major's Handbook, Adam Potkay, W&M; see section on writing English papers.
Jack Lynch, Getting an A on an English Paper, Rutgers U.
Papers: Guidelins, Expectations, Advice from U. Toronto.
Glossary of Literary Terms

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