Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Class Description

This is a HASS–CI class. Like other communications-intensive classes in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, it allows students to produce 20 pages (5000 words) of polished writing with careful attention to revision. It also offers substantial opportunities for oral expression, through presentations of written work, student-led discussion, and class participation. The class has a low enrollment that ensures maximum attention to student writing and opportunity for oral expression.

This class surveys the American narrative about itself, focusing on such topics as: Myths of Origin, Declarations of Independence, Realism and Satire, and Rewriting History. Although we address a wide range of authors (Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, Stowe, Whitman, Dickinson, Wharton, Hurston, among others), students also scrutinize certain core works in historical, biographical, and literary contexts: Mary Rowlandson's Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration, Frederick Douglass's Narrative, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Toni Morrison's Jazz.

Required Texts

Baym, Nina, Wayne Franklin, Philip F. Gura, et al. eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Shorter 7th ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. ISBN: 9780393930573.

[Morrison] = Morrison, Toni. Jazz. Plume, 1993. ISBN: 9780452269651.

Readings are in the Norton Anthology, unless otherwise noted.


1 Introduction  
2 William Bradford, Mary Rowlandson  
3 Benjamin Franklin, Washington Irving
Annotation studio workshop.
4 Library research workshop  
5 Essay 1 writing workshop/groups. Bring rough drafts to class. Essay 1 due
Declarations of Independence
6 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau  
7 Henry David Thoreau  
8 Revision workshop  
9 Nathaniel Hawthorne  
10 Frederick Douglass  
11 Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs  
12 Herman Melville  
13 Essay 2 writing workshop/groups. Bring rough drafts to class. Essay 2 due
14 Walt Whitman  
15 Emily Dickinson  
Realism and Satire
16 Samuel Clemens  
17 Samuel Clemens (cont.)  
18 Samuel Clemens (cont.)  
19 Sarah Orne Jewett, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman  
20 Henry James, Edith Wharton  
21 Essay 3 writing workshop/groups. Bring rough drafts to class. Essay 3 due
Vision and Revision
22 Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Richard Wright  
23 [Morrison] pp. 4–87  
24 [Morrison] pp. 89–162  
25 [Morrison] pp. 165–229  
26 Conclusion Essay 4 due


This course consists of both an oral component, which accounts for 25% of the grade, and a written component, which counts for 75%.

In-class report 10%
Class attendance and participation 15%
Four 5-page essays 60%
One revision 15%

Important Things to Know

  • Each student will be allowed 1 excused absence; an excused absence means that you have an urgent reason to miss class and have contacted me in advance. For any additional or unexcused absence your attendance grade will be reduced by one third of a grade. If you are having trouble meeting your requirements for attendance and participation, please see me at once.
  • Papers must be submitted on the class website by midnight on the day that they are due. Class time that day will allow for writing workshops before you hand in your final draft. Come to class with draft in hand.
  • Please be sure to hand your papers in on time. Lateness will result in lower paper grades. For each day that your paper is late, your grade will be lowered by 1/3 (i.e. a B+ will become a B after one day, a B- after 2 days and so on. Weekends will be included).
  • Because of the writing-intensive nature of this course and the swift reading pace, extensions may be granted only in extreme situations (illness, family crisis, or other equally difficult circumstances). You will need to contact me at least 24 hours before the paper is due in order to receive an extension.
  • Intellectual integrity is imperative in all of our work. Plagiarism, co-opting of another's work, will not be tolerated in any class. This is the Literature Section's policy on plagiarism:
    • Plagiarism—use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom, including images and other media, must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available in the Writing and Communication Center, and the MIT Website on Plagiarism.
  • The Writing and Communication Center offers free professional advice about oral presentations and about all types of academic, creative, and professional writing. The best way to guarantee an appointment is to schedule early!
  • Students with Disabilities that might affect their work, in or out of class, should check with me as soon as possible (privately after class or by email). MIT is committed to the principle of equal opportunity for students with disabilities with proper registration for accommodations.
  • Student Support Services (S³): If you are encountering academic difficulty of any kind, be sure to take advantage of the resources at S³. "Student Support Services (S³) is designed to be a friendly and easily accessible hub of support. Whether you are having trouble with academic work for personal or medical reasons, you are considering taking time away from the Institute, or you just don't know who to talk to, we can help. A diverse staff welcomes conversations with students about their interests, and the challenges and dilemmas they encounter."
  • Research/Library Assistance: If you have library-related questions about research and resources, contact our liaison.