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ENG 3140:

American Literature Survey








Course Website


Course Rationale


In this course, I wanted to show students how American writers from a number of different perspectives (African American, Marxist Feminist, queer) constructed a variety of aesthetic practices that negotiate the reality of history with the ideal of "American" futurity. As a survey, students are responsible to gain familiarity with a wide range of canonical works. However, I aimed to create a coherent theme that would facilitate students' sense of comprehension and control over the content. Aside from very traditional genres of assessment of survey courses (midterms & close reading literary analyses), I wanted to have students map the relationships between texts, drawing both comparisons and contrasts. I settled on having students build digital maps in which they develop a graphic organizer to make connections and distinctions between three reading selections of their choice. They would think of this map as a pedagogical tool for future students, and ultimately presented their work to the entire class. I felt that by having students creatively articulate these relationships, they would, 1.) have to closely analyze the texts,  2.) make original connections that were latent in class discussion, and 3.) remember these works in chunks rather than forget them as individual units. Here is the digital map that I created and used over the course of the semester, building as we went, as a constant model and reminder for their end goal. In the Project Descriptions below, you will find student examples of this project.


Table of Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs)
Course Texts
Course Description

English 3140 will introduce you to some of the major texts of U.S. literature from the end of the Civil War to the present, and from the various perspectives–racial, political, gender, and otherwise–that make up the United States’ literary tradition. In this class, we will focus on the historical imagination in 20th-century U.S. culture. Our major question: how has history been imagined in a country that often styles itself as “belonging to the future only,” as the 19th-century essayist John O’Sullivan put it? We will not be thinking about history simply in a documentary sense–that is, as a record of things done and said, a roster of great or famous people, or a picture of how things “really were.” Instead, we will explore how various authors have represented the nation’s relation to its past–how the past shapes communities, how (or whether) it matters, and how (or if) it is remembered, both officially and otherwise.


Project Descriptions




Every week, you will be responsible for writing one, substantial 250-350 word blog that uses the texts to draw thematic connections for the weekly readings. Each week is organized so that the texts will dynamically interact with each other, it will be up to you to assess and evaluate these connections. These posts will not be graded for content, but graded on a pass/fail basis at the end of the term. Don’t fall behind, because the purpose of these posts is to get everyone thinking about the reading ahead of time. These posts will only be counted if they are prepared before class—scrambling afterwards and making multiple posts to make the grade won’t work. There may also be unannounced reading quizzes.


Project One: 3-4 page Close Reading Essay


Project Two: Group Presentations:


Your group (of 3 or 4) will be responsible to give a short, 15-minute presentation on the historical period. You should bring in whatever multimedia you find necessary or helpful (like, for example, a clip of a poetry reading or political speech), but it should not consume more than 5 minutes of your time. I can help you with source materials. The presentation should accomplish the following:

  • Provide a clear overview of the historical or literary period you are asked to cover (options: Reconstruction, Harlem Renaissance, First Wave Feminism, New York School Poetry)

  • Transition into the relevant material we read for the week, how is the text we read related to the period, how does it help us think about the period

  • Plan 3 to 4 discussion questions, of which you will not read all at once but methodically guide us through. You should have some ideas in response to these discussion questions to spur discussion. Provide me with the discussion questions 48 hours before class so that I can offer advice/feedback.


Project Three: Digital Map


For this assignment, you will use Prezi to create one digital map of a theme we explore in the course (the problem of the color line, a map of overcoming historical depression, history as pathology, literature and capital/labor, queering history, or others). In your map, you will thoughtfully and thoroughly show the relationships (aesthetic, political, historical) between three texts (or four if you are working with a partner). You can construct these relationships in any number of ways: for example, how a piece of work builds on the project laid out by a previous author and why a renewal of that author is sought, how an author diverges from or breaks a trend in thinking artistically about a problem, etc. In the final class period, I will ask that you present your project in less than 15 minutes (though you may include details or readings in your fuller project that are not covered in detail in the presentation). A successful project will:

  • use creative close readings of each individual novel/short story/ poetry collection as the building block to their network.

  • When I use the word “creative” here, I mean that you might build on the readings we’ve constructed in class from your notes, but you should develop these further, more completely and professionally than we manage in the short period of class time. (This is unlike the Midterm in that I asked you there to simply regurgitate what you knew from the class).

  • fully and thoroughly address the particular historical context of each work of literature. For example, the issues facing each of our black artists were, yes, related, but, in their individual moments and in their iterations/projects, the contexts change. “Oppression” and “racism” are not satisfactory signifiers.

  • develop a coherent narrative for the viewer such that they would understand your argument about the relationship between these texts (i.e. that there is purpose and thought and both of these are made evident).




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