What would you do if you were asked to edit a textbook for college level American literature survey courses? What texts would you include? How would you help students make sense of those texts?
By definition, a "survey" needs to cover all periods of American literature. It also has to include a number of different authors and works from each period. So a "survey" textbook is usually quite large.
And yet, if students simply leave the course having encountered an assortment of works from a variety of authors and periods, what will they have learned? In order to understand a subject, we need to do more than accumulate information. We need to be able to select those things that seem most important. We need to arrange information and ideas into some kind of order that yields meaning. We need to interpret what we have encountered in order to develop our own understanding of its significance. And through this process of selecting, arranging, and interpreting we lay claim to meaning; we make these works our own.
So how do you plan a "survey" textbook - or teach a survey course - that covers an entire literary tradition and is broadly inclusive and yet allows students to develop an individual understanding of the meaning of that tradition? One way to do that might be to identify a few important themes that turn up in the work of one author after another over the course of our literary history. Perhaps by paying attention to those topics are treated in each period we can develop some theories about how Americans and American literature have changed (or stayed the same) over the last several hundred years.
For your first project in our course, imagine that you are preparing one of the first sections of your textbook. You will be focusing either on the Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mary Rowlandson or on The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Your job is to choose materials for that section, and to write an introductory essay and annotated bibliography that will help students understand the texts they encounter in the section. In your introductory essay, you should identify, document, and analyze one central theme in the Rowlandson's Narrative or Franklin's Autobiography and at least one related text; you should also explain how a proper understanding of this theme might help us understand something important about the time and culture in which those texts were produced. Since most introductory essays offer readers guidance on where to turn for further information, be sure to offer an annotated bibliography of at least six recommended secondary sources. (You can include up to three websites.)
Your goal is to produce a segment for your textbook that is effective in helping students understand the work of one author and his or her relationship to the American literary and cultural tradition.
1. Choose your author.
2. Choose a theme. (See options below.)
3. Choose one or more texts on a related theme to supplement the main text you have chosen. (Again, see options below.)
4. Identify important quotes on your theme in both your primary and supplementary text(s)
5. Reread the quotations closely in order to develop a list of points and questions in your thinking and writing.
6. Do some preliminary research on the web and in the library in order to learn more about the author, the text, and the period.
7. Draft an essay in which you analyze your theme, using selected quotations as the basis of your argument.
8. Draft a conclusion in which you offer some hypothesis about what your conclusions might suggest about the nature of seventeenth or eighteenth century literature or culture. How was it like or unlike our own?
9. Share your draft with members of your work group and with the professor in order to develop a plan for revising.
10. Develop a final draft of your essay
· The Significance of Work, the Value of Wealth
· Reading and Education
· Religion/The Nature and Role of God
· Relationships Between Classes
· Enlightenment Ideals
· Literary Conventions: Captivity Narratives
1) Have a chosen a theme that offers a useful way of investigating the work of this writer and the period and culture of which s/he was a part?
2) Have I selected the most powerful quotations to illustrate the complexities of that theme?
3) Have I selected a supplementary text that can aid readers in understanding my theme on a deeper level, and have I chosen quotations from that text that illustrate the complexities of that theme as effectively as possible?
4) Have I offered a clear, accurate, and well-developed explanation of the significance of each quotation?
5) Have I used my discussion of individual quotes as a way of developing a thorough interpretation of the meaning, complexity, and importance of my theme?
6) Have I used my discussion of this theme as a way of offering a true and useful comment on the period and the culture?
7) Have I supported my discussion of the period and culture with quotations from one or more reference works?
8) Have I offered my readers the best possible sources to aid in their future research?
9) Was my presentation professional, and credible? Would it earn the respect of my audience?
10) Would my presentation be likely to have a significant impact on my reader's understanding of my author and period; would it extend the boundaries of their understanding and interest?