LITR 4326 Early American Literature

lecture notes

course introduction


primordial chaos!


Grateful for showing up and hope you and yours are coping well enough with this enormous disaster.

If you're not, or if things go from bad to worse for you, please communicate whenever you can and together we can try to keep everyone going through December.

Made some adjustments to the course requirements so that we can do our work without adding to misery


1st classes--profs want grand preview, get big ideas up front, prepare students for later reinforcement

What students get: sense of personalities, styles, expectations (how much work, what possible pleasures)

not try to do too much, and if it starts to feel that way, I'll refocus.


me: at UHCL since 1992, 66 years old, married longer than I was single, grandfather, first students grandfathers; last year or two before retiring

hired to teach early American literature + multicultural studies

teaching style: student-centered learning, learn by doing, discussing


you: small class, challenges / opportunities

student introductions



peculiarities of course: so many different materials > students must self-direct (contrast American Renaissance)


student presentations

discussion questions (today)


Literature as pleasure + learning




why we read literature of the past?


knowledge + critical thinking


but do we identify? How far back can we go in literary history and feel as though it matters to us now? (Shakespeare, Classical Tragedy, etc.)

approach the unknown through the known—if we like something from the past, why? If not, why not? What does either tell us about ourselves?




frees us from tyranny of the present

humans mostly limited to very short time, limited attention span

if you can think like the past, you can think like the future


Also helps see present fresh, what you take for granted, how it evolved, what may happen next





(history as necessity > analogy > recombination of human agencies and natural or built environments)



pleasure of learning

Which America do we teach?

multicultural population but dominant culture institutions: university, English language


cross-pressures between what students want to or can read


what authority figures say students should read




Emergence of “Literature” as we know it today from earlier genres like letters, pamphlets, public documents; spoken and written literatures and cultures


"Literature" as known today = creative writing, esp. fiction, poetry, drama

> film

> creative nonfiction: autobiography / memoir

> essays


appeals: escape, entertainment,


"LIterature" as known before 1800s = anything written, from poetry to history to science

historical documents

social contracts

religious texts

direct cultural information

less symbolic and figurative, more literal or informative


appeals: knowledge how world works, but can feel more like work than entertainment or escape


Federalist 10.22 kindle a flame > conflagration



syllabus is never finished but continues to be improved or developed--no big changes without warning

instructor has taught course maybe a dozen times

doctoral training and dissertation in American Renaissance


course evolves with changing scholarship and changing students




Classroom style

balance instructor's ancient knowledge with students' developing insights and fresh apps


instructor's ancient knowledge:

brief lectures and presentations

terms, objectives, themes linked through website


students' developing insights and fresh apps:

Discussion questions

Model Assignments

Student presentations & student-led discussions