Currents: Policies and Information

Course Description
This course focuses on North American Literature from the period of early exploration and colonization through the end of the 19th century, roughly 1500 through 1900. It is a “survey” course in the sense that we shall read in chronological order a small selection of texts, each of enduring significance, and representative of the changing literary forms, cultural values, and social tensions of the centuries under consideration.  Your reading for this course will span four crucial periods of American history. The first half of the course will involve writings from two of those periods: the extended era of colonization, from roughly 1600 through 1740; and the era leading up to the Revolution and the establishment of an American nation, itself codependent with the development of a distinctly American self, a period roughly from 1740 to 1800. The second half of this course will focus first on a selection of texts from the era of nation-building, roughly 1800 to 1865, when writers sought to give this new self a literary expression in American forms, forms which declared their cultural independence from European models.  The course will end with a look at transcendentalism, American Romanticism, and Realism as they emerged through the 19th century.  Though this course is in many ways a “survey,” you will not be reading all of the canonical texts from these periods; instead, we will focus on literary history and trends, working to gain an understanding of the arc and flow of earlier American literature.  Particular attention will be paid to race and ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class, sexuality, and religion as these categories interact with the emerging American nation.

This course is a Diversity Connections course (DICO) in the General Education program.  Click here for information about this.

About DICO’s: Becoming educated involves developing awareness of, sensitivity to, and appreciation for viewpoints other than those to which we have been acculturated. Through such development comes increased respect for those different from oneself. Students take a three-credit Diversity (D) course (either within the major or not) designed to broaden and deepen awareness and appreciation of differences and commonalties of sub-cultural groups in American society defined by differences in race, ethnicity, ability, social class, religion, politics, gender, or sexual orientation. Diversity courses do this by exposing students to the life stories and the voices of members of different groups and by exploring issues of equity, opportunity, and justice.

The Theme for This Currents Class
This particular Currents of American Lit will center on what historian Jill Lepore calls “the relationship between words and wounds.”  Lepore explores how accounts of King Philips’ War function to create the significance of this war in the great American narrative.  In this course, we will ask questions about how words build nations, establish power, create “truths,” and define literature, and about how language functions to eclipse political and social anxieties even as it reveals the very instability of its own structures.

Course Objectives
By the end of this course, you will:

  • be able to read critically, marking a text with questions and comments that reflect a thoughtful engagement with both form and content, and have increased skill at reading off a screen with incorporated digital annotation
  • be able to formulate an original thesis argument based on the analysis of a text
  • be able to write a coherent and lively expository essay based on your original arguments
  • understand the definition of an “archive,” and be able to use digital archives to inform your research and writing
  • know the competing major accounts of the history of America to 1900
  • know what comprises the “canon” of earlier American literature
  • have developed your own ideas about the politics of canonicity and the definition of “literature”
  • be able to make critical connections between contemporary American mythologies and primary source documents from early America
  • be able to make connections between these American texts and contemporary literary theory
  • be able to articulate your ideas about the role of diversity in earlier American literature, in the emerging American nation, and in historiographical theory
  • have developed your own ideas about how language and literature define and create America
  • understand open licensing and open access issues and processes, and be able to properly license and publish your own work to contribute to the field of earlier American literature
  • have developed critical digital literacies that enable you to evaluate and leverage digital tools in service of the creative and analytical work you want to do
  • have contributed to this course and to the field in ways that I, as you professor, could not have anticipated at the beginning of the semester.

Goals for All PSU Literature Courses

  • To understand texts in their cultural and historical contexts
  • To develop critical and creative analytical practices
  • To write about texts w/depth and clarity
  • If applicable, to employ research skills in writing about lit and/or film.

Course Requirements and Grading Procedures

  • Required Assignments 40%
    All assignments except Final Exam are opt-out if alternatives are proposed in a timely fashion.  All due dates are flexible if arrangements are made in advance.
  1. Textbook Intro (group & self-evaluation sign-off 0-3) (20%)
  2. Textbook Spelling/Edit (Robin sign off 0-3) (5%)
  3. Digital Document Paper (Robin grades) (20%)
  4. Close Reading Paper or Patterns Within a Period Paper (Robin grades) (20%)
  5. Summary of Learning Screencast (Robin grades) (20%)
  6. Final Exam (Robin grades) (15%)
  • Choose 10 that help you learn and/or grow your PLN (self-evaluation sign off 0-10) 30%
  1. Moodle Post
  2. Blog Post
  3. Padlet Creation
  4. OpenAmLit Discussion Questions
  5. 60 Second Plot Video
  6. Movie Trailer
  7. Live tweet reading
  8. Wild Card
  • Hypothesis Annotations (peer evaluation & self-evaluation sign-off 0-10) 25%
  • Attendance (see below) 5%

The class decided on the following policy: if you are absent 0-3 times, you will receive full credit for attendance; 4-6 times you will receive half credit for attendance; 7 or more times you will receive no credit for attendance.  Attendance will be worth 5% of your total final grade.  Remember that extended absences due to serious illness or emergency can be dealt with at the Office of Undergraduate Studies. Please don’t be late even by a couple of minutes, because it’s rude.  Ongoing problems with lateness will necessitate some kind of intervention.

Required Text

The Open Anthology of Early American Literature, available free here:

Because this is a digital text and we will be working with digital annotation, you must bring a laptop or tablet (or smartphone if necessary) to class with you so you can access the texts. In special circumstances, you may wish to print the day’s reading.

Academic Integrity
You must adhere to the Academic Integrity policy as outlined in the PSU Academic Catalog.  Anyone violating this policy will be reported to the English Department chair, and then sent before the Academic Integrity panel for a hearing.  Here are the basics of what I expect, in addition to full compliance with this policy:

  • all work is your own;

  • if you get information or ideas from books, articles, the internet, or interviews with live people, you need to cite that information or those ideas using MLA style;

  • you may not purchase papers and turn them in as your own work;

  • you may not turn in an assignment that you yourself created for a different class;

  • all presentations and PowerPoints must also include citations.

Plymouth State University is committed to providing students with documented disabilities equal access to all university programs and facilities. If you think you have a disability requiring accommodations, you should immediately contact the PASS Office in Lamson Library (535-2270) to determine whether you are eligible for such accommodations. Academic accommodations will only be considered for students who have registered with the PASS Office. If you have a Letter of Accommodation for this course from the PASS Office, please provide the instructor with that information privately so that you and the instructor can review those accommodations.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.