LITR 4231 Early American Literature

2014 midterm & research plan assignments

(This is the official midterm. No substantive changes will be made after 25 Feb. 2014)

LITR 4231 Model Assignments

unity / transition

paragraph structure

Instructional Materials

2 options for taking exam

  • in-class: 7-9:50pm during class period Tuesday, 4 March; write in ink in bluebook or notebook paper (fronts & backs of pages OK; single-spacing OK, or write on word program and print-out or email) or on laptop. Bring notes, texts, laptop, outlines, drafts to class. Write exam in 3 hours. In-class midterms are graded separately from emails.)
  • email: 3-4+ hours anytime after class on Tuesday 25 February and by 9pm Wednesday 5 March; write in Word or Rich Text Format file; attach and paste into email message to (or reply to my email)

Email students may take breaks and write parts in installments + review & revise.

Attendance not required on 4 March unless you take exam in-class. Instructor keeps office hours during class period. If you plan to take exam in-class, please notify instructor.

Instructor will be out-of-state and off-line 8-14 March.

Format: Open-book, open-notebook

  • Use materials on course website + outside sources (<optional).

  • No direct coaching or contributions from another person in writing final version.Welcome to consult beforehand with instructor, Writing Center, mentors, fellow students.

  • No copying or lifting from outside sources without attribution.

4 parts to midterm exam (Parts 1 & 2 may overlap)

  • 1. Essay 1: 6-8 paragraphs on 5-6 texts & 2-3 terms developing Objectives 1, 2, 4, and/or 6.
  • 2. Essay 2: (4-6 paragraphs) on 1 of 2 options (or combinations as inspired):

    • 2a. Highlight and analyze a passage from our course readings--your best textual experience in comprehending course contents (terms, themes, objectives, class discussion)

    • 2b. Favorite term, objective, concept in course + explanation & application to at least 2 texts

  • 3. Web Highlights: Review at least 3 student contributions from course website's Model Assignments (4-6 paragraphs)

  • 4. Research plan proposing / exploring likely-to-possible topics for research posts assignments (2-3 paragraphs; prepare beforehand?)

Special requirement: Essays, web highlights, and research plan must have titles—the better the title, the better the start.

Special notes: Sections’ contents may overlap or repeat materials; acknowledge, cross-reference, economize

  • If your exam will be late, communicate! (professional courtesy)—Penalties for lateness aren't as severe as penalties for making the instructor wonder if he missed your email or what's happened to you.

  • email:; telephone: 281 283 3380

Advance preparations?:

  • Prepare your Research Plan (part 4) ahead of time (or compose it while writing your exam).

  • Organize, draft, and revise essays answer as much as helpful—no real time-limits for writing on email exams, but time doesn't always equal quality. Edit, proofread, and improve before sending.

  • Welcome to take drafts to Writing Center for help. Also consult with instructor, fellow students, or other mentors. Use common sense in managing conflicting advice.

Audience? > a member of our class, a future student (who may read your exam on Model Assignments), an interested member of your family, friends, former teachers, who might want to know what you’re learning and why it matters.

Of course your main audience is me, your ancient instructor who may know more about these subjects than anyone else you'll ever meet.

But my response isn't about what I know that you don't but how much you can show what you're learning instead of just saying whatever you would have said before the class started and then just stopping as though you haven't been in class. The response you don't want is, "You could have written this exam without taking the course!"

Essay 1: 6-8 paragraph essay unifying 5-6 texts & 2-3 terms

Describe your learning experience in terms of Course Objectives 1, 2, 4, and/or 6.

  • Obj. 1. To learn about early North American and U.S.texts and cultures and make them matter now) and / or Course Objective 2 (

  • Obj. 2. Early American Literature is an origin story about the beginnings of North American culture and literature.

  • Obj. 4. Which America to teach?

  • Obj. 6. Can American history tell a single story? Trans-historical unity?

To make your texts matter, refer to these or other course objectives, to at least 2-3 important terms, to what parts of texts connected to your and the course's interests. State your central ideas and themes clearly, connect them to each other, and relate to relevant texts as you go.

Or start with 1-2 texts that worked for you and build from them to what works for you in the course. Connect to objectives & terms as specified above, develop texts' meanings, relate to other texts in and beyond the course.

Required references:

  • Sustained references to objective(s): 1, 2, 4, and / or 6. ("Sustained": don't just mention and drop them; return to and reinforce or extend.)

  • 2-3 terms: Don’t just mention them—work with them—reconnect and extend.

  • 5-6 Texts from course till midterm: you may cover 1-2 texts in more detail than others. Most important: connect texts to each other—compare-contrast subjects, themes, characters. Texts may include 1 poem or web review. (You may also involve 1-2 texts beyond course, as long as they connect.)

  • Within these limits and requirements, develop your own emphases or discuss with me or others like the Writing Center.

Priority: Write about something you care about or can make yourself care about. Develop your interest to match, vary, and extend the course’s interests.

Possible emphases—you may select, vary, combine, or ignore; plenty of other topics identifiable in the course:

  • Creation / Origin stories; The Puritan generations; Plain Style & Baroque; Voices and images of women and ethnicities; material and spiritual aspects of American culture; what's surprising and familiar about early American literature; 1600s & 1700s, Religion & Enlightenment; interactions between Europeans and American Indians and the literature that results

For other possibilities, see LITR 4231 2012 midterm samples & LITR 4231 2010 midterm samples

Suggestions for starting and organizing:

  • Describe your learning experience. What have you found most useful or rewarding? What themes or issues do you find yourself responding to?

  • What did you previously know about our overall subject (Early American Literature) and/or your particular interest in it? How did you know what you knew? (What sources?)

  • Welcome to describe previous sources of learning: earlier courses, religious instruction, movies or cartoons, outside reading, Thanksgiving pageants, etc.

Essay 2: 4-6 paragraph essay on 1 of 2 options (or combinations as inspired):

  • 2a. Highlight and analyze a passage from our course readings—your best textual experience in comprehending course contents (terms, themes, objectives, class discussion)

  • 2b. Favorite term, objective, concept in course + explanation & application to at least 2 texts

Essay 2 was NOT on the LITR 4231 2010 midterm but samples available on LITR 4231 2012 midterm samples or LITR 4232 2010 short essay samples.

Details: Choose & indicate either 2a or 2b. If  inspired to combine the options, announce at start of answer.

2a. Highlight a passage from our course readings—your best textual experience before the midterm—explaining why it made an impression on you. Analyze the passage’s language, how it works and connects. Apply to course terms and/or objectives + extend or apply beyond course.

  • Copy and paste the passage into your exam, or refer to it so instructor can find it or know what you’re talking about. (Doesn’t count as essay length)

  • You may refer to more than 1 passage, but more material may equal shallower analysis. If 2 passages, be sure to connect.

  • References to discussion or lecture welcome; otherwise analyze text on its own terms, in larger context, by connecting to other texts.

  • Make it matter. Why or how does the passage speak to literary and/or cultural issues in and beyond our course?

2b. Favorite term, objective, concept in course + why + application to at least 2 texts

  • What  term, objective, or idea appeals to you the most & why? What does it help explain about your, our, or their world then or now? Why does the term or concept matter? Two textual references may be better than one.

  • Connect, compare, or contrast with other terms.

  • How has your understanding evolved? Where do you apply or see it?

3. Web Highlights: Review at least 3 student submissions from course website's Model Assignments (4-6 paragraphs)

Assignment: Review at least 3 submissions on the course webpage’s “Model Assignments” page and write 5-7 paragraphs (total) on what you found and learned.

Requirements & guidelines:

  • Review at least one midterm essay from 2010 or 2012 midterm essays.

  • Review at least one research post from 2010 or 2012 research posts.

  • A third post from any LITR 4231 Model Assignments, even the final exams.

  • “Review”: describe what interested you, where, why you chose it, what you learned. You may criticize what you found, but not required.

  • To identify passages, copy and paste brief selections into your web review or refer to them using names, locations, paraphrases, summaries, and brief quotes. (Both options in models.) Either way, highlight and discuss language used in the passages as part of your commentary. Critique what you learn.

  • What did you learn from reviewing model assignments that you didn't learn from in-class instruction?

Requirement: Web Highlights essay must have a title. Also remember to write it as an essay, not just a list of 3 items. Unify your learning experience. 

4. Research plan exploring likely-possible topics for research posts assignments (2-3 paragraphs; prepare beforehand?)

For the research component of this course, you will write two “research posts”—not traditional essays but reports in which you organize knowledge you gather on a self-selected topic.

This proposal is to start thinking about your research post topics—first post is due 22-29 March, just after spring break.

Again you have choices—priority should be to write on something you want to learn about that connects to our course.


Your topic should stay within the time-boundaries of our course, from 1492 to the 1820s. You may connect to materials beyond our course limits, but your learning must focus or refocus on periods studied in Early American Literature.

You are not limited to authors, texts, or cultures in the syllabus—you could do more research on American Indian literature, the Founders, the Pilgrims and Puritans, Spanish or French explorers, women writers, early poetry or drama, authors like Bradstreet, Paine, Jefferson, Abigail Adams, or any other names that catch your interest, or subjects like visual or musical art that relate to the course's cultural or period interests.

Topics often change somewhat as you do research. Just start, and see what you learn, then shape the report around your learning.

If your topic changes drastically, let me know so I won’t be surprised and think the wrong things when I see it.

sample research proposal

LITR 4231 2010 research posts; LITR 4231 2012 research posts

Requirement: Research proposal must have a title.

Response to Research Proposal

  • When instructor receives email submitting your midterm, he will directly read your proposal and offer a response in his email acknowledging receipt of midterm. (Midterm grade & note will be emailed a week or two later.)
  • Student does not receive an announced letter grade for the proposal, only a “yes” or instructions for receiving a yes, plus . Students don't lose credit for problems reaching a topic as long as they are working on it.  
  • The only way to get in trouble over proposal is if you simply don’t offer much to work with, especially after prompts from instructor. A bad proposal is one sentence starting, “I’m thinking about . . . ” and ending “ . . . something to do with immigration and gender.” Then, “What do you think?” In these cases, a bad grade isn’t recorded, but notes regarding the paper proposal may appear on the Final Grade Report.
  • In other words, a few students obviously don't think about this topic until the last minute when the midterm is due. Instructor can't act like that's cool.

Standard advice for exams:

Don't copy out long passages from texts.  Quote briefly, or simply remind your reader of events, characters, situations in texts. 

No need for page documentation unless it’s something surprising. Refer to texts by full title and author's name the first time; abbreviations welcome thereafter.

Organize / Unify essays around a central theme, question, or problem. Keep returning to it and developing it as you write and revise. (Much of instructor's feedback will focus on your writing.)

Final steps:

  • Review & edit your essay before sending. Don't make instructor address problems that you can solve.

  • Emphasize main points. Connect ideas to each other. Connect texts to each other. Connect ideas and texts.

  •  Develop examples. Remember what teachers have told you about your writing.

  • Rest & edit before sending. Surface quality is part of your grade. If you have trouble with spelling, word endings, punctuation, etc., get help from a mentor or tutor as long as they explain changes.

Most common problems in midterms & research plans:

  • Forgetting or ignoring objectives and course terms.

  • Students don’t write enough—they write what they have to, then happily stop instead of pushing their ideas another step.

  • Students ignore what happens in class and blah-blah-blah as they would have whether they took the class or not, recycling old ideas from other classes or hallway conversations (which you can use as long as you connect them to the class). Show what you've learned—even if you haven't thought of it till now, work up some learning. Keep remembering, wondering, and applying what you can learn.

  • Students fear I'll bust them on documentation or double-spacing instead of content, organization, and surface style. (Most students and teachers find a way to mess up something, but the point isn't to punish you for mistakes but to reward you for learning.)

  • Forgetting or failing to proofread and edit before submission

Evaluation criteria for essays: Readability & surface competence, content quality, and unity / organization.

  • Readability & surface competence: Your reader must be able to process what you're reporting. Given the pressures of a timed writing exercise, some rough edges are acceptable, but chronic errors or elementary style can hurt.

  • Content quality: Comprehension of subject, demonstration of learning, + interest & significance: Make your reader *want* to process your report. Make the information meaningful; make it matter to our study of literature and culture. Reproduce course materials, especially through reference to terms and objectives, but also refresh with your own insights and experiences. Avoid: "You could have written this without taking the course."

  • Thematic Unity and Organization: Unify materials along a line of thought that a reader can follow from start to finish. (Consider "path of learning": what you started with, what you encountered, where you arrived.)

general guidelines for exam grades

unity / transition

paragraph structure

Instructional Materials