LITR 5431 Literary & Historical Utopias

Midterm Assignment 2019

This webpage constitutes this semester's midterm assignment, to be updated until Wednesday 27 February, when paper copies are distributed.

Relative weight: app. 30-40% of final grade    Format: email

Official date & time: 6 March 2019; no regular class meeting; instructor holds office hours 7-9:50pm.

Email exams may be written any time after class meeting on 27 February and are due to by midnight Friday 8 March.

Two parts to midterm:

part 1: Web highlights from previous midterms, research posts, and / or final exams (5-8 paragraphs?)

part 2: Essay in 1-3 parts on learning and interests re Literary and Historical Utopias (9-12 paragraphs?). Essay(s) must cover all 3 sets of topics (see below).

Content details below.

Throughout this exam, references to “utopia(s)” or “utopian literature” may be understood to include fictional or nonfictional texts describing dystopias, ecotopias, & / or actual communities.

Overall Midterm Requirements: All essays including Web Highlights must have titles.

Refer frequently to course objectives, terms, texts, presentations, and handouts. You don't have to cite numbers and bullets as much as indicate awareness of course's common materials, texts, terms, and themes. Brief working definitions of central terms are always a good idea.

Required textual references: In part 2, make extensive reference to our four major texts: Utopia, Herland, Anthem, and Ecotopia. (If you write more than one essay for part 2, you don’t automatically have to refer to all 4 in each section.) You're encouraged to refer to materials from web reviews and outside readings, but keep returning focus to central texts.

Part 2 should make references to 1-2 historical utopias or utopian movements or related literary events or movements.  

Possible references—not required but potentially helpful:

outside readings and other courses, texts, or discussions anywhere.

student-discussion insights relevant to your themes.

your first research post (or plans for 2nd post).

Part 1: Web highlights from previous midterms, research posts, and / or final exams) (5-8 paragraphs?)

Assignment: Review at least 3 submissions on the course webpage’s “Model Assignments” page and write 5-8 paragraphs (total) on what you found and learned.

Purpose: To enhance peer-instruction and potential for later seminars to build on earlier seminars' learning.

Organization: variable; many students default to reviewing one item at a time discretely from each other, but the best submissions tend to approach the entire assignment as a coherent whole, connecting learning and insights from each submission to a summary of what has been learned overall.

More specifically . . .

First paragraph: introduce assignment, preview purposes, selections, and learning experience.

Body paragraphs: review submissions in terms of unifying themes (+-variations)

Concluding paragraph: summarize highlights and learning experience.

Requirements & guidelines:

At least one Model Assignment must be a midterm from the Utopia seminar's previous semesters. You may restrict your highlights to midterms, but research posts and final exams may also be included.

“Review”: quickly describe what interested or impressed you, where, why, and what you learned or admired. You may criticize what you found, but not required.

To identify passages to which you’re responding, mention student-writer's name and year. Copy and paste brief selections into your web review, or simply refer to contents with paraphrases, summaries, and brief quotations. (You'll see both options in Model Assignments.) Either way, highlight and discuss the language used in the passages as part of your review. Critique what you’re reviewing in terms of what you learn or where the model succeeds or fails.

Possible emphasis: What did you learn from reviewing model assignments that you didn't learn from in-class discussion or instruction? Or, how did a past student see materials differently, more productively, or in more depth?

Web highlights from LITR 5439 Utopias summer 2015 midterms

Web highlights from LITR 5439 Utopias summer 2013 midterms

“Utopia(s)” or “utopian literature” in descriptions below may include dystopias, ecotopias, & actual communities as convenient.

Part 2: Essay in 1-3 parts on learning and interests re Literary and Historical Utopias (9-12 paragraphs). Essay(s) must cover all 3 sets of topics listed below.

Assignment: To demonstrate learning and apply knowledge of Literary and Historical Utopias.

Length: app. 9-12 paragraphs, depending on unit lengths or paragraph lengths. Of course you may write more. If you draft much less, try more examples and analysis.

Prep time and writing time: Spend at least 3-4 hours drafting the exam you will submit, and reserve time for editing.

Midterm Content / Assignment: Write one long essay or 2-3 briefer ones developing the following topics.

These elements can appear in any order or throughout your essay(s).

1. Appeals and detractions of utopias for literary study (Objectives 3 & 4)

2. Summary-analysis of utopian genre & conventions (Objectives 1 & 2)

3. Highlight special interests in course (any course objective[s]; potentially involving 1st / 2nd research post[s])

Detailed prompts (for 3 content elements above):

Not a checklist—consider all possibilities, but develop your best ideas in a unified essay. All students vary emphases—I read what you write.

1. Appeals & detractions of utopias for literary study (Objectives 3 & 4)

  • What did you enter knowing of our subject? What have you learned? How do you reconcile popular attitudes toward utopian literature, thought, and experimentation, which are reflexively dismissed ("They don't work") with the phenomenon's persistent recurrence in Western Civilization and education? Welcome to refer to previously-read texts or historical models for examples.

·        Develop a working or provisional definition of utopia (literary and historical)

o   explore utopia's literary and historical meanings, backgrounds, challenges, and purposes

o   acknowledge and account for difficulties in defining

o   identity & deal with some attractions and detractions for this field of study

2. summary-analysis of utopian genre & conventions (Objectives 1 & 2)

3. Highlight special interests in course (potentially involving 1st &/or 2nd research post + possible extension in final exam essay)

· What personal attraction or apprehension toward subject of utopia? How has this reaction developed?

· What have you been most interested in learning from or about this subject? Or, what aspect(s) seems most valuable? Consider in relation to your 1st and/or 2nd research post?

·  Relate your interests to a course objective (or part of one, or some combination of 2 or more, which may overlap w/ 2 & 3 above).

o   Analyze your interest in the objective(s) and review the seminar's discussion. (If this objective hasn't yet received much coverage, welcome to play it off what we have discussed)

o   Option (here and on final exam): revise an objective or develop a new one. Relate your new objective to the existing objectives.

o   Explain and defend your interests and relate them back to the seminar's attractions, distractions, etc.

o   The final exam offers an option for continuing this part of your essay.

email copy of your answers to instructor at

·        Mistake students are most likely to make: sending to “white” rather than “whiteC”; “white” goes to another teacher (long retired, so she won't notify you of your error).

·        Attach appropriate word processing file(s) to email

·        Copy contents of your word processing file, paste them into email message to

·        All submissions are posted to the Model Assignments.

Spacing: No need to double-space, but OK if you do. I convert all electronic copies to single-space for reading onscreen.

General grading standards: Readability, competence levels, content quantity and quality, and thematic unity.

Readability & surface competence: Your reader must be able to process what you're reporting. Some rough edges are acceptable, but chronic errors or elementary style limit quality.

   Review & edit your midterm before submitting. Don't make instructor write, "You expected me to read your midterm when you didn't even read it yourself?"   

Content quantity and quality:

   Evidence of learning, esp. understanding of terms and application to texts.

   Coverage and analysis of required texts.

   Use of course resources including instructional webpages (esp. for terms) + materials from class discussion and lecture.

   Interest & significance: Make your reader want to process your essays by making the information meaningful to our study of literature and culture.

Thematic unity / organization: Unify materials along a line of thought that a reader can follow from start to finish.

Dr. White's Instructional Materials

Return of midterms: Receipt of your email midterm will be acknowledged by reply email, usually within a few hours.

Check email for your midterm note and grade from instructor by end of Spring Break.

Instructor's response often focuses on writing and organization as tranferable skills. For content, instructor often encourages students to refer more often to instructional websites or model assignments and to "use course terms and objectives more frequently and systematically" The impression you don't want to give is that "you could have written this exam without taking the course!"