Syllabus #2

English 3701: American Literature: Beginnings to 1800
Fall 1990

Professor Margaret E. Whitt
University of Denver

Professor Whitt writes:

"Because of the Heath Anthology, which I used in an early American literature to 1800 class, I was able to enter into discussions in a new way with support at hand. Last year, I attempted to present the problems that continued ethnocentricity have caused us who want to see the bigger picture, but because that particular anthology did not do anything but support the ancient view, I floundered for support and made a good number of handouts. With the Heath this year, however, we were able to sustain the conversation for the length of the quarter, constantly asking ourselves `What is American literature, especially these early years?'; `When should it begin?'; `How do we make the decisions about what to include and what to leave out?' On the final exam, one of the essay questions was the following:

Early American literature has long been considered the study of English-speaking people in the New World. Only very recently has this traditional way of looking at the literature been outwardly lampooned as ethnocentric. Define the study of early American literature. When does literature become truly American? Is American literature tied to the formation of the government? Is it nationalistic? Is it related to the land or nature? Does it have anything to do with ubi panis ibi patria? Does the literature create the myths, or do the myths create the literature? Must literature be imaginative to fit an English curriculum?

The responses to this question were enlightened and fascinating to read. The students now realize that it is essential to keep asking the questions and let the canon have elasticity. The Heath made it possible for all of us to re-think and re-see our shared beginnings.

I would like to note that the Heath shares with all anthologies that problem of personalized editing. How frustrated I was not to have my favorite part of Winthrop's Journal in your book, or Bradstreet's poem on her house that burned down, or Jefferson's controversial query 14 on "Laws" in Notes on the State of Virginia. But this problem is inherent in all anthologies. I couldn't put one together that would please me for more than one year!"

Course Description:

This course will examine who we were before we became a nation. In so doing, we begin with the Native American tradition and the literature of discovery and exploration before moving on to the European settlers. We will take a close look at the Puritans, whose ordered world, according to John Winthrop, "disposed of the condition of mankind as. . . some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection." So then we are not surprised to read Anne Bradstreet's line, "Men can do best, and women know it well." Historical context is indeed significant. Through extensive readings in literature that is imaginative in diverse ways--charming by its understated simplicity and haunting by its overt complexity--we will come to understand the mindset that was to shape our heritage and our literature.

Required texts:

The Heath Anthology of American Literature, vol. 1, Lauter, et al.

Jonathan Edwards: Basic Writings, ed. Winslow


One ten-minute oral presentation with two-page written summary for class members

An astute critical analysis of some aspect of early American literature: 10-15 pages

Final Exam

Reading Schedule:

Mon., 9/10: Overview of class and background information on several beginnings

Wed., 9/12: Native American writings 25-66

Mon., 9/17: Columbus 70-80; Virgin of Guadalupe 81-88; Samuel de Champlain 132-136

Wed., 9/19: Smith 151-159; Frethorne 173-176

Mon., 9/24: Winthrop 191-210; (optional but suggested: scan Morgan's The Puritan Dilemma)

Wed., 9/26: Bradford 212-232

Mon., 10/1: Bradstreet 258-281

Wed., 10/3: Wigglesworth 284-295; Bay Psalm Book, Preface 298-307; New England Primer 308-310

Mon., 10/8: Taylor 346-385

Wed., 10/10: Rowlandson 318-142

Mon., 10/15: Sewall 387-399; Mather 401-406

Wed., 10/17: Jonathan Edwards-all

Mon., 10/22: continue Edwards

Wed., 10/24: continue Edwards

Mon., 10/29: Woolman 593-610

Wed., 10/31: Franklin 823-881

Mon. 11/5: continue Franklin

Wed., 11/7: Crevecoeur 892-925

Mon., 11/12: Paine 940-945, 951-957;

Wed., 11/14: Jefferson 960-964, 964-971

Wed., 11/21: FINAL EXAM

Contents, No. IX