LITR 4328 American Renaissance
Midterm assignment

long essay, short essay, web review &
research proposal

Monday, 2 March 2015

(email midterms due by 9pm 5 March)

1865 American flag

(This webpage is the assignment for our course's midterm. This page will be updated up to 23 February.)

Date:  2 March 2015email midterms due by 9pm 5 March (If your exam will be late, communicate!—professional courtesy.).

No regular class meeting on 2 March (i.e. attendance not required unless you take the exam in-class.) Instructor keeps office hours during class period.

Format: Open-book, open-notebook: Use course materials + outside sources (<optional).

2 options for taking exam

  • in-class: 7-9:50pm during class period 2 March; write on laptop and print-out or email, or in ink in bluebook or notebook paper (fronts and backs of pages okay; single-spacing okay). Bring notes, texts, laptop, outlines, and/or drafts to class. Write exam in 3 hours. In-class midterms are graded separately from emails.

  • email: 3+ hours anytime after class on Monday 2 March and before 9pm Friday 5 March; write in Word or Rich Text Format file; attach and paste into email message to (or reply to my email). Take time to edit and improve before hitting "send."

Email students may take breaks and write parts in installments.

4 parts to midterm

1. Long essay describing and focusing learning, challenges, issues concerning American Renaissance or American Romantic literature. (6-8 paragraphs)

2. Short essay (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 1-2 readings

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

4. Research proposal (2+ paragraphs) indicating research option and topic(s)

Special requirement:

Essays, web reviews, and research plan must have titles.

Special notes:

  • Sections’ contents may overlap or repeat—not automatically a problem, as connections between parts are good. Acknowledge, cross-reference, economize.


  • Consider doing your Web Highlights first. Seeing how previous students performed on a similar midterm can give you ideas and help organize your thoughts.

  • Consider drafting your research proposal before you start the exam. (Most research proposals are pitifully minimal, partly because the exam's first three parts exhaust students, many of whom haven't given the research a moment's thought until they finish the exam.)

Welcome to email, phone, or confer with instructor before, during or after exam.

Warning about content: You're always invited to integrate your own ideas, but they should interact with the course's terms and objectives. What you don't want me to tell you is, "You could have written this exam without taking the course."

Assignment Details

1. Long essay: Describe and focus learning, challenges, issues, gains concerning the American Renaissance or Romantic Period of American literature. (6-8 paragraphs)

Assignment: Referring to at least 4 assigned readings (incl. Mohicans) and to the course's central terms and objectives, write a readable, unified, and compelling essay describing and evaluating your learning experience concerning the American Renaissance or American Romantic Movement.

Question: What is the American Renaissance or American Romanticism? Why does this subject and the authors involved matter not only to students of literature but to everyday citizens?

Possible approaches:

  • Review your knowledge on entering the course of authors, terms, time period, etc., then describe how this initial understanding has grown, changed, found new applications, etc.

  • Start with the significance of our authors, their texts, and cultural / historical period, then detail how and why individual authors are significant to readers now.

  • Focus on a specific aspect of the course that appeals to you, then extend and connect to the course’s larger issues, terms, objectives, and texts.

Audience: Obviously I'm the primary reader and grader, but future students may see samples of your writing in our Model Assignments.

  • Option: Address an outside reader while keeping in mind how your answers will sound to a member of our course, like me. Examples: a principal, a department head, or a former teacher; a younger student studying the same texts or authors; someone starting our course as you did 6 weeks ago.

You can't cover everything & aren't expected to—prioritize, emphasize, organize some materials at the expense of others.

More on required texts: One of your minimal number of 3-4 texts can be a poem presented in class. Beyond that minimal number, refer to as many poems as helpful.

Models of long essay from American Renaissance 2013

Models of long essay from American Renaissance 2012

Models of long essay from American Renaissance 2010


2. Short essay (4-6 paragraphs). Choose & indicate either 2a or 2b. If  inspired to combine options, announce at start of answer.

2a. Highlight a passage from our course readings—your best textual experience so far—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 a plus; otherwise analyze text on its own terms, in larger context, by connecting to significant terms and to other texts.

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

[One way to make your passage matter is to connect it to other course readings; e.g. Ligeia as dark lady > Cora in Mohicans]

text selection: any text featured so far in class, whether assigned readings, poetry presentations, or web reviews.

2b. Favorite term, objective, concept + why + apply to 1-2 texts

What  term or idea appeals to you the most & why? What concepts does it explain? Why does the term or its applications matter?

Establish a "working definition" of the term that you can apply to one or more course texts. (Use course links when possible.)

Apply to one or more passages from one or more of our course texts so far. How does the text-example extend, challenge, or enrich your working definition?

Connect, compare, or contrast with other terms.

Conclude by exploring, How has your understanding evolved? What is learned? Show how the term or idea helps you with the text or literature generally.

Models of Short Essay 2 from American Renaissance 2013

Models of Short Essay 2 from American Renaissance 2012

Models of Short Essay 2 from American Renaissance 2010

Models from 2008 midterms (Self-Selected Passage Analysis); samples from 2006 midterms (Identify & Signify)


3. Web Highlights: Review 3(+) posts from course website's Model Assignments

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:

At least one Model Assignment must be a midterm from American Renaissance's previous semesters. All three may be midterms, but research projects, research proposals, final exams, and presentations are welcome and may help your research proposal.

“Review”: describe what interested you, where, why, what you learned, what impressed or surprised. 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 locations, paraphrases, summaries, and brief quotes. (Both options appear 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?

Models of web highlights from American Renaissance 2013

Models of web highlights from American Renaissance 2012

Models of web highlights from American Renaissance 2010


4. Research proposal (2+ paragraphs) indicating research project & options

research proposals 2013

research proposals 2012

proposals 2006

proposals 2004

Any of your answers may refer to your research plans, but #4 is required as a separate element.


Formats and processes

Documentation?--No documentation required for references to course texts except for citing author, title, & context.

Example from a 2006 midterm:

In “Resistance to Civil Government” Thoreau uses a mix of Romantic language and sublime imagery to make the individual the supreme authority from which governments derive their power: “when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other.  If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.” The moral reference to nature is specifically Romantic in that it recalls the simplicity of the natural world and the natural order. The analogy of competition requires the reader to consider the role of governments and individuals in both their natural urges and their moral obligations to themselves and each other. Towards the end, Thoreau argues, “There will never be a really free and enlightened State, until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”  The passage's uplifting language promotes the status of the individual.  Words such as “enlightened,” “higher,” and “independent” will probably evoke a higher plane of thought than might usually be associated with the concepts of government.

Instructor’s response to midterm:

7-10 days after turning in midterm, you’ll receive an email with your midterm grade and 1-3 paragraphs of feedback.

Feedback tries to be brief, but sometimes it's long for the sake of offering advice.

  • Many students don’t read instructor’s comments or scan through them on cellphone. (Best students review possibilities for improvement.)

  • An exam's purpose may be less instruction than exercise of memory, critical thinking, writing

  • Ask for more feedback or a conference—I’m pleased when you do

Response to research proposal may be only “yes” + brief note since many students change their research option or topic. The proposal’s purpose is less to commit than to start thinking and planning.

General grading standards

Guides for anticipating grading and comments:

  • Surface competence / readability: An occasional careless error won't kill your grade, given time pressures, but repeated or chronic errors are remarked and factored. If you have trouble with spelling, word endings, punctuation, etc., get help from a mentor or tutor (ask them to explain help).

  • Content: Use, explain, and apply course terms; refer frequently to course objectives, terms, and texts.

  • Thematic organization: emphasize central themes of your essay. Connect parts of essay to form a unified whole. Use transitions. Organize paragraphs with topic sentences. (Helpful websites: unity, continuity, and transition; Thesis, topic sentences, transition.)

The best exams use terms, themes, and objectives recognizable from class meetings, demonstrate understanding of terms and objectives with quick working definitions and application to examples from texts, while also extending and refreshing common materials with the student's own language, examples, and analyses of shared texts.

Lesser exams talk about the texts but ignore terms and objectives. Students write what they would have said before starting the course. Instructor replies, "You could have written this without taking the course." Don't make me write this!

Evidence of learning: All exams are expected to use central terms and themes from objectives with text-examples highlighted in lecture-discussion with competence. Knowledge from beyond the course and on-the-spot inventiveness are impressive, but first and foremost demonstrate mastery of the course’s essential materials. Beware my criticism: "You could have written this essay without taking the course."

Students naturally want to show what they already know and for the instructor to exclaim, "I have nothing to teach you—you know it all already!" But experience teaches that we never know everythingl. A more interesting persona or attitude for a critic is to discover something they don't quite understand but want to understand through writing, rethinking, rewriting. Questions, problems, and issues are good as long as you learn from them.

Extension of learning: The best exams not only comprehend the course’s terms, objectives, and texts but also use the student's voice to refresh, extend, or vary terms and themes with examples from the class and from experience beyond our class. Make our course meet the world!

Mix your language and ideas with the course's. 

Writing the exam:

  • Don’t think of reasons *not* to try out potentially good material that interests you and may go somewhere.

  • If you run out of material, develop examples. Don't worry about instructor being bored.

  • Review unity/transition and paragraph structure

  • Take extra time to review and improve submission. When draft is finished, rest and return later.