LITR 5431 American Literature:
Literary & Historical Utopias

Research Posts

(2 installments + review in final exam)

1st post due weekend of 15-17 February

2nd post due weekend of 29-31 March.

LITR 5439 Utopia Sample Posts 2015 LITR 5439 Utopia Sample Posts 2013 LITR 5439 Utopia Sample Posts 2011 LITR 5439 Utopia Sample Posts 2009

Assignment: Write and submit two “adventures / experiments in research.”

Essential information: Research posts are not essays of literary criticism but reports on your research findings on literary criticism or history concerning utopias.

Sources: At least 4 sources. You may use previous research posts from LITR 5439 Utopias Model Assignments as sources or as leads to other sources.

Length: 4 paragraphs (though you may add 1-2 more paragraphs if the alternative is "monster paragraphs")

Works Cited / Bibliography? As the models demonstrate, some research posts feature a Works Cited at the end; others provide documentation as they cite in the text; and others do some combination.

Assignment details

  • Topics must be relevant to our subject matter of Literary and Historical Utopias but should also reflect your personal and professional interests.

  • Posts are reports, not essays. They should be interesting and readable, but NOT analyses of literary texts. Instead, they report and explain your research and findings on a topic of interest (which may involve some literary analysis that you may report).

  • Relate your research to Literature as far as relevant, but content options include history, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, women's studies, multicultural studies, etc.

  • Your topic may develop from a course text or author, a term or theory in the course objectives, a web review or student-led discussion, or relevant material from other courses, personal reading, or experience, as long as it relates to our course's subject matter.

  • Your second post may continue the same content as your first post, so that your two posts relate to, build on, or vary each other—or they may be distinct subjects.

  • The only absolute stipulation for content is that a post's subject must have something identifiable to do with utopias, dystopias, or intentional communities.
  • Your final exam will assess one or both of your posts as part of your essay on your overall learning experience.

  • Most typical mistake: Students want to write a personal analysis of texts we're studying or might study because that's the kind of writing they're familiar with in a Literature course. That approach is an essay, not a report.

  • Some primary research may be involved, and you may involve your own conclusions and insights, but this report mostly summarizes secondary and background research. (See primary, background, & secondary research.)

  • In brief, Research Posts emphasize gathering and explaining knowledge, not reading and interpreting poems or fiction—though your research may apply to poems or fiction.

Length: 4-7 paragraphs, plus or minus bibliographic information

Bibliographic requirements and information: At least 4 sources, at least some of which should be from reputable scholarship and not just stray internet postings. MLA style is expected. Information may be included in text or more completely in listings at end of post.

Published scholarship has the most prestige and professionalism, but for some subjects consider interviews with experts or practitioners. For instance, some teaching issues may offer little research, so interview someone who may have more knowledge, like a former teacher or professor.

Posting to webpage: Email contents to instructor at Instructor will post to webpage and email notification of posting with a brief reaction. This may be all the feedback the student will receive until final grade report, though students may always confer with instructor to review. (See “grading” below.)

Organization, Content, etc.:

Provide a title for your entry to serve as a link. The title should indicate your post's content. The title may take the form of a question.

1st paragraph: Introduce and frame a question you want to answer or a topic you want to know more about.

  • Explain the background or source of your interest; how you were familiar with or already knew on the subject, how or where you learned it or were alerted to it, etc.
  • These backgrounds can be personal as well as educational or professional.
  • At some point in this introductory paragraph, a statement of the question you’re trying to answer or the purpose of your research should appear.

2nd and 3rd paragraphs: Describe your search for answers to your question or topic.

  • Identify, locate, describe, and evaluate at least two sources.
  • Your sources may be print, Web, or personal (interview, lecture, conversation, or anecdote).
  • If Web, provide links.
  • If print, provide bibliographic information. (MLA style is preferred, but the main point of all documentation is to enable your reader to find the source.)
  • If “personal,” provide as much contextual information as possible; welcome to protect privacy.

4th paragraph: What is the answer to your question?

  • Your “answer” may take a variety of forms, as long as you demonstrate learning.
  • You may find a definite answer to your specific question.
  • Or you may learn that you’ve asked the wrong question, in which case you could conclude by revising your question.
  • Summarize and evaluate what you have learned.
  • Consider what your next step might be if you continued your research along this line.

These paragraph descriptions are only guidelines, not absolute rules.

You may write more than 4 paragraphs, but more than 6 or 7 paragraphs may push the assignment too far.

Grading schedule: Grades for research posts are not returned until the Final Grade Report

Instead of a grade and extended review for your first post, on receipt of your submission instructor sends a brief email summarizing overall impression of your submission + suggestions for next moves.

Your two research posts together receive a single grade, which appears in your Final Grade Report because your final exam will reference one or both of your Research Posts.

This description may sound tricky, and some students like their grade outcomes better than others, but in several semesters of such assignments I've had no direct complaints—only questions, which you're welcome to ask.

Grading standards: Research Post grades are based on readability, interest, quality of research, and learning.

  • Readability: quality of reading and writing constitute excellence and competence in Literature courses—not just covering course materials but organizing extended analyses into compelling reading experiences. Competence in spelling, punctuation, grammar, and clarity are taken for granted. Given time pressures, occasional careless errors won't break your grade, but chronic errors must be factored. Thematic unity, continuity, and transitions are essential.
  • Interest: Not whether the instructor would have chosen the topic, but how well the report generates and sustains interest. A personal angle is welcome for starters, but expand to wider appeal. Reinforce why your research matters.
  • Quality of research: Use what you've learned about academic research. Consult with Neumann Library's reference librarians. Take some chances—interview, review a relevant film, magazine, institutional, or commercial site. Scholars in Literature and Humanities combine work and pleasure—honoring what they must do but redeeming what they want to do.
  • Learning: The most consistently redeeming quality in all research is the sense that the author (and at least potentially the audience) has learned something valuable. Emphasize what you wanted to know and why + how your research advanced or changed your knowledge and understanding.

Possible topics (mostly from earlier Historical Presentation assignment—see also Web Reviews on current schedule)

Impact of Bellamy’s Looking Backward on contemporary Progressive social movements.

Kibbutz movement in early Israel (and later developments)

Arts and Crafts Movement

Pre-Civil War utopian movements in USA (Brook Farm, Fruitlands, Oneida Community, Shakers)

Sixties utopian movements

Feminist Utopias

Communitarian Movement (Amitai Etzionai)

Virtual utopias in cyberpunk or other sf

Utopian movements of the Renaissance

Heaven as utopia (see Revelation, Gates Ajar, Jehovah’s Witness literature)

Mormons as utopian movement?

Twin Oaks (contemporary intentional community in Virginia)

Charles Fourier

Oneida Community


Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Progressive Movement



Utopian authors/texts we're not covering: (Remember that you don't need to read the entire book (though you might read some); rather, you would read about it. Review plot, circumstances of composition and reception, )

Samuel Butler, Erewhon (1872)

William Morris, News from Nowhere (1890)

H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (1905)

Samuel R. Delany, Triton (1976); later retitled Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia

See also list of historical and literary utopias (and dystopias)

Your topic may grow from any Web Review or from Historical Presentations 2007 or Historical Presentations 2005

These listings are only guesses off the top of my head, which may occasionally meet students' interests—visit Sample research posts from 2009 seminar for more likely inspiration or emulation.


Additional examples from other courses:

LITR 5731 Multicultural: American Immigrant:

2012 Research Posts

2010 Research Posts

2008 Research Posts (American Immigrant Literature)

2006 Research Posts (American Immigrant Literature)


LITR 5831 World Literature: Colonial-Postcolonial

2011 Research Posts

2009 Research Posts

2008 Research Posts