LITR 4328 American Renaissance

Research Options

antebellum "Great Star" flag

Subject prohibition: Too many students typically want to write about the lives of Poe or Dickinson and how their writings reflect these authors' personalities or experiences. Such topics usually engage the biographical fallacy—interpreting a literary text as a transcription of actual personal experience—which is typically counter-productive to literary criticism and critical thinking.

If students insist on writing about Poe's and Dickinson's lives as ways to interpret these authors' writings, they may do so under the following conditions:

1. Acknowledge and describe the biographical fallacy, explaining how your interpretation will transcend this approach's limitations and

2. Emphasize and defend the insights that biographical study produces.

3. Keep returning to the texts or writings of the author, informing how these texts gain meaning as a result of biographical knowledge and how a reader could not adequately appreciate these texts without biographical knowledge (even though most readers find plenty of meaning in these texts without such knowledge).

cf. Early American Literature assignment prohibitions (on writing about Salem Witch Trials as if they were really about witchcraft instead of moral hysteria).