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American Literature to 1900: ENGL 312

Course Description

English 312 (American Literature to 1900) is an advanced critical study of the major writers, as well as the intellectual and literary movements, of the American experience and literary tradition from its beginnings to 1900. Prerequisites: ENGL 204 and ENGL 301.

Essential skills and/or outcomes to be acquired through the course include:

  1. an ability to render close textual analysis and close reading of works of American literature;
  2. an ability to synthesize information from multiple texts;
  3. an ability to express clear, cogent ideas;
  4. an ability to render thoughtful and well-written essays, with thesis, textual support, and analysis;
  5. the cultivation of aesthetic and critical judgments about literature;
  6. an understanding of the philosophic, critical, and cultural ideas from which the literature of the US evolved;
  7. an understanding of relevant literary periods.


English 312 is a writing-intensive course. For that reason, three critical papers (totaling a minimum of 20 pages) are required. At least one of the critical papers should be a formal research paper.

Recommended Texts

Instructors of English 312 are encouraged to use the latest edition of The Norton Anthology of American Literature , volumes A-C. Supplemental texts, of the instructor’s choosing, are welcome as well.


The following is a list of authors and works representing the major literary periods of American writing from its beginnings to 1900, which should be covered in the course. Instructors may include additional choices, but representative works and authors from all three literary periods must be covered.

American Writing to 1830


Native American Narrative, Poetry, or Oration

Explorers: Christopher Columbus, John Smith, De Las Casas or other writer


New England Puritan Leaders (choose one): William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation (selections) or John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity”

Puritan Poetry: Anne Bradstreet or Edward Taylor, selected poems

Phillis Wheatley, selected poems

European/African/Native American Contact Literature (choose one): Mary Rowlandson, “A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson”; Samson Occom, “A Short Narrative of My Life”; Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (selections)

Spiritual Autobiography/Narrative (choose one): Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” or “Personal Narrative”; Elizabeth Ashbridge, Some Account of the Fore Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge (selections); John Woolman, The Journal of John Woolman (selections)

Benjamin Franklin, selected writings

Washington Irving, selected writings

American Literature 1830 – 1865


Transcendentalism and Romanticism

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature,” selections from other essays, selected poems

Henry David Thoreau, selections from Walden


Margaret Fuller, selections from Women in the 19 th Century


Lydia Maria Child, selections from An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Citizens Called Africans and selections from “Letters from New York “


Fanny Fern, “A Law More Nice than Just,” “Hints to Young Housewives,” “Mrs. Adolphus Smith Sporting the Blue Stocking,” “The Working Girls of New York “


Harriet Jacobs Selections from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl


Frederick Douglass Selections from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass


Edgar Allan Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition,” “Review of Hawthorne ‘s Twice-Told Tales,” selected tales and poems

Nathaniel Hawthorne, a generous selection of the tales

Herman Melville, “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” Benito Cereno ; Billy Budd, Sailor ; selected poems

A novel or selections from one of the following:

Louisa May Alcott, Hospital Sketches

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Catherine Maria Sedgwick , Hope Leslie

Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron-Mills

Walt Whitman, “Preface” to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass , representative poems from as many sections of Leaves of Grass as possible

Emily Dickinson, selected letters and poems



Select one novel by Mark Twain, Henry James, or Edith Wharton

Select either “Editha” by William Dean Howells or “The Yellow Wall-paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Select two to three short works that demonstrate gendered, racial, and geographic diversity by Rose Terry Cooke, Bret Harte, Joel Chandler Harris, Sarah Orne Jewett, Kate Chopin, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Charles W. Chesnutt, Alice Dunbar Nelson, and Jack London


Select two works from the following:

Frank Norris, “Fantasie Printaniere,” excerpts from Vandover and the Brute

Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat,” Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

Theodore Dreiser, excerpts from Sister Carrie

James Weldon Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Paul Laurence Dunbar, The Sport of the Gods



Select two to three autobiographical excerpts that demonstrate gendered, racial/ethnic, class, and geographic diversity by Henry Adams, Sarah Winnemucca, Booker T. Washington, Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa), and Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala-Sa)



Select three to four excerpts from among writings by William James, Ida B. Wells, George Santayana, and W. E. B. Du Bois



Henry James, “The Art of Fiction”

And one selection from the following:

William Dean Howells, “Novel-Writing and Novel-Reading”

George Santayana, excerpts from Essays in Literary Criticism . . .

W. E. B. Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art”

Frank Norris, “A Plea for Romantic Fiction”


Select several representative poems by Frances E. W. Harper, Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt, Emma Lazarus, Edgar Lee Masters, Edwin Arlington Robinson, James Weldon Johnson, and Paul Laurence Dunbar