William Major, Ph.D.
English 323: American Renaissance
Office: H128A
Office Hours: MW, 12:15-1:15; TR, 11:15-12:30
Phone: 768-4935
E-mail: major@mail.hartford.edu
Website: http://uhaweb.hartford.edu/major

Required Texts:

 Davis, “Life in the Iron Mills”; Douglass, Narrative; Emerson, Selections; Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance; Melville, Short Novels; Poe, Fall of the House of Usher; Thoreau, Walden & Resistance; Whitman, The Portable Walt Whitman.

 

Course Overview

Welcome to English 323, American Renaissance: 1830-1860. This course takes its title from F. O. Matthiessen’s 1941 book, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman. Though Matthiessen’s book is, by some accounts, passé, he was one of the first American critics to focus on Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Hawthorne, and Melville as artists worthy of national and international repute. To that end, we will explore in loving detail the major canonical authors of the period; in addition, however, we need to question the
process by which these authors made their way into the pantheon of American literature, and why others, such as Poe, Douglass, Fuller, and Stowe (the latter representing what Hawthorne called the “damn’d mob of scribbling women”) were left out. Do these writers offer competing visions of standard American transcendental thought? We will therefore examine several interrelated topics: the development of the concept of
an American identity, the theory and practice of literary independence from the Old World, and the social and political milieu of the age. We shall consider the texts’ formal properties, such as language, ambiguity, irony, and contradiction, but we will also pay attention to the historical and social circumstances behind their production, including slavery, women’s rights, incipient industrialism, and utopian socialism.
 
Course Requirements

Two Papers:                                                                          20% each
Three Short Response Papers:                                              10%
Midterm:                                                                                15%
Class Participation, including Blackboard:                          15%
Quizzes                                                                                    5%
Web Page Final:                                                                     15%
 

Papers

Your two major papers will be a minimum of four pages each—you choose the maximum—and are worth 40 percent of your final grade. I will give you a list of topics to choose from; however, you are welcome—indeed, encouraged—to pursue your own interests and come up with topics that suit you. If you decide to write about a topic that you find particularly interesting, please confer with me before you write so that we are on
the same page.
 
You will also write three short (about one page) response papers throughout the semester. These papers are your opportunity to explore any issue in the readings that interests you, to ask questions of the class, to critique ideas. I expect these papers to be brief, but thoughtful. If you simply summarize the texts, then you will not receive full credit on your papers. These assignments are due at your leisure, but do not wait until
the last minute to complete them. I intend to use your ideas as springboards for class discussion.
 
Midterm

Your midterm exam will cover all the material we have covered in class up to the date of the exam. It is worth 15 percent of your final grade. More information will follow.
 
Quizzes

You may have announced and unannounced quizzes over the readings and lectures. If, as a class, you are well prepared for every class, we will enjoy few or no quizzes.

Class Participation

The success of this course will depend upon your willingness to participate in class discussion. It follows, then, that you must come to every class prepared to exchange ideas. Please make sure that you have carefully read and considered the materials before you come to class. I won’t hesitate to call on you occasionally. We will periodically cover issues suggested by the text—such as race, gender, class, sexuality, and a host of other subjects—that may make you feel uncomfortable during our discussions.  All viewpoints are welcome in this class; I do, however,
caution you to be sensitive to your peers in all of your comments.
 
I am working on putting together a Blackboard discussion web page to encourage the free exchange of ideas. Everyone is expected to participate. Class participation is worth 15 percent of your final grade.
 
Web Page Final

Instead of a traditional final exam, I have decided to try something different. I will ask that you work in small groups on a project that we can load on the University of Hartford server as a web site. We will choose a text—The Blithedale Romance or “Song of Myself,” for example—and explore as many aspects of that text as possible: its meanings, its relevance to nineteenth-century social issues, its historical and contemporary
criticism, its relevance to the biography of the author, and so on. I suspect that we will work on this for the better part of the last half of the semester. I will ask for periodic updates.
 
Your group will receive one grade, so this will also be an exercise in cooperation—our own little Brook Farm. When the project is complete, you will write a brief but honest evaluation of your own performance as well as that of those in your group.
 
Field Trip to Concord and/or Arrowhead

When the weather warms us a bit, we should take a day trip to Concord to visit the cradle of transcendentalism. We may also wish to go to Arrowhead, Melville’s home in the Berkshires where he wrote most of Moby-Dick. I suggest we reserve a Friday in late March or early April.
 
Attendance

I take attendance at every meeting.  You may have no more than three (3) absences for a MW class.  Please use your absences when you are ill or when you have a family emergency; no distinction is made between excused and unexcused absences.  Please keep track of your absences. Students who make a habit of missing the class (more than four) will be penalized in their class participation grade. Absence from a previous
class is no excuse for failure to complete assignments on time.

Conferences
I encourage you to stop by my office during office hours to discuss your work at anytime throughout the semester. If my office hours are inconvenient, please make an appointment to talk with me at another time. Individual work in conferences is often one of the most helpful ways to improve your writing.

Plagiarism and Academic Honesty

All work must be your own. The theft of someone else’s writings or ideas constitutes plagiarism. Any student who plagiarizes will fail the course and may face further disciplinary action. Please avoid the temptation to find papers on the Internet.
 
Decorum
 
I expect all students to conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the college classroom. Anyone engaging in disruptive behavior (side conversations, eating, excessive tardiness, leaving the classroom, etc.) will be asked to leave the course.