21L.006 | Spring 2013 | Undergraduate

American Literature


Essays 1–3

Due sessions 5, 13, and 21

The first three essays will build on your use of Annotation Studio, a simple digital tool that allows you to search and take notes in a digital text, to display your comments either privately or publicly, and to filter, tag, and sort your notes. Please go to http://www.annotationstudio.org/ to find out more about the tool (scroll down menu under “The Application” to “Tutorial”). You will receive a link where you can register and begin annotating texts.

What does a text need in order to be readable? Most of the texts we read in this class appeared in historical and cultural contexts that we can only partially recover and understand. In order to be meaningful to new readers, texts need to be edited. The Norton Anthology edits by selecting from a large archive of texts, creating excerpts, and providing historical overviews, biographical introductions, and helpful notes. In this class, we are going one step further. Your essays will allow you to provide editorial apparatus of your own, making choices and providing research materials, so that your peers can appreciate the texts more fully. Using writing workshops and peer feedback, you will create texts for readers like yourselves.

For each of the first three essays, you will assume one of three editing tasks as the class prepares the text for “publication”: historical background, biographical overview, or textual annotation (explaining uses and patterns of language). You will sign up for your tasks early in the term, a different one for each essay. At the writing workshop before each due date, you will work with the other writers in your editorial group to refine your work. Your essays should explain the historical, biographical, or literary context for reading the text and should show how knowing this context illuminates particular details in the text under discussion. They will build a class archive of editorial work as a resource, record, and model for future essays.

Although authors and tasks vary from assignment to assignment, certain expectations remain the same throughout:

  1. Each essay should show mastery of passages and details from the text under discussion.
  2. Focused research will be necessary for your work, and you should cite sources (including the text under consideration) and give credit accordingly, using MLA Works Cited format.
  3. You are writing for an audience of peers who know the text as well as you do and will not need summaries of the plot or well-known facts. Try to illuminate the text and delight your readers.

Editing task signup for essays 1–3 (PDF)

Essay 1 research workshop assignment (PDF) 
Complete this worksheet to prepare for the research workshop in the MIT Libraries on session 4.

Essay 4

Due session 26

For the final essay, on Toni Morrison’s Jazz, you will construct a more developed critical essay based on the skills you have learned in editing earlier texts.

To write her novel Jazz, Toni Morrison drew from a rich reservoir of historical, cultural, artistic, and popular references. As a result, Jazz reflects on a particular period, the Harlem Renaissance, and also on themes in the creation and preservation of American history, particularly that of African-Americans whose stories have not been fully told. Drawing on research into the Jazz Age, select some event, author, or cultural production in Morrison’s text (jazz being only the most obvious example) to examine more closely. How does Morrison use historical details to develop her literary aims? Use your research to develop your reading of an important theme or question in Morrison’s novel and to show how Morrison uses literary tools to heighten readers’ awareness of its implications.

In-class report

You will present an in-class report and handout on one of the course authors.

Author sign-up sheet (PDF)

Report guidelines (PDF)

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2013
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Presentation Assignments