Each student (or group of students) will construct a substantial COURSE PROJECT which offers a well-developed analysis of a single author or significant theme in nineteenth century American literature. You may wish to propose a course project which builds upon one of your previous reading/research logs. The project should offer an expanded discussion of the topic which includes appropriate references to both primary source materials from the nineteenth century and twentieth century critical essays.
Instead of writing and presenting a standard research paper, you have the option of preparing a "research archive" on the topic of your choice and using the archive as the basis of a class discussion. A "research archive" would be similar to the author pages which are part of our course web site. (However, composing the project as a web page would be absolutely optional.)
The research archive would include such elements as the following:
You may choose either to focus on a particular author or on a particular theme which connects several authors (i.e. "the self-made man," issues of class, attitudes towards religion, reactions to progress, etc.).
For example, a business or communications major might focus on marketing in nineteenth century America. How was marketing changing and what techniques were being used? How did these changes reflect and/or effect changes in the society? What was the literary response to this topic? (Consider the discussion of the advertisements painted on rocks in Silas Lapham, or the way Hank uses knights to advertise soap and other products in Connecticut Yankee.) Were the authors celebrating or expressing concerns about marketing and the society of which it was a part?
you can develop a project which brings together a variety of resources all of which focus on the specific work on our syllabus;
or you can choose as your focus a different work by the same author, or a theme treated by the author in a number of his/her works.
for example, attitudes towards wealth, progress, religion, the mechanical, the status of women, the "self-made man," America's competition with Britain, etc.
For example, you could choose to work with the life and writings of a noted minister, abolitionist, or political figure.
Here is a menu of some of the possibilities:
Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward is a utopian novel describing a twentieth century world which has resolved all the problems surrounding work, competition, wealth, and status with the creation of a socialist society. By looking at Bellamy's "solutions," it is possible to identify the types of issues he believed posed problems for nineteenth century life. Resources available would include materials on: the labor movement; economic competition; nineteenth century socialist thought and organization. One particularly interesting line of research might involve looking at some of the utopian communities which were established by nineteenth century Americans. Investigating those experiments would provide yet another way of thinking about the kinds of problems and solutions which were part of the "conversation" of nineteenth century America. For a brief introduction to the novel and some of the issues it raises, you might want to visit the Edward Bellamy Page which is part of the on-line history site sponsored by Longman publishers.
Hamlin Garland's Main-Traveled Roads: is a collection of simple and stirring short stories depicting the lives of farm men and women who have moved west in search of better lives. Garland was himself the son of a farm family and repeatedly moved west as he was growing up; some of his autobiographical works tell the story of his own boyhood experiences. Garland saw himself as a "realist" writer, who was willing to show the beauty of farm life but also its pain. Consequently, his writing includes descriptions of the hardships of work on the land, the loneliness of life on the farm, the difficult roles of women and children in farming families, the competition for land, and the problems caused by heavy mortgages and land speculators. On the other hand, he describes not only the hardships but the beauty of farm life, not only the competition but the cooperation. Garland himself was active in the movement for agrarian reform. One of the most significant interpretations of the westward movement in America is Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth. The University of Virginia's e-text edition of Smith's classic would offer a good starting-point if you were interested in pursuing a project on that topic. The Hamlin Garland Page developed by a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington offers statements by Garland explaining his "literary creed," a brief biography, a bibliography, letters, on-line texts, and photos.
Henry David Thoreau's Walden is one of the genuine classics of nineteenth century American literature. Concerned about the types of changes being caused by progress and believing that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," Thoreau moved to the woods outside Concord, Massachusetts "so that [he] would not die, not having lived." Thoreau was a powerful thinker and eloquent commentator on the times in which he lived, and his reflections on topics as diverse as nature, money, travel, newspapers, railroads, and reading offer a powerful description--and critique--of nineteenth century America. One of Thoreau's favorite topics is the nature of work, as when he writes: ". . . the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day . . . . He has no time to be anything but a machine." In the our own times, Thoreau has come to be regarded as a kind of founding father of the environmental movement. The Life and Times of Henry D. Thoreau is an essay written by Elizabeth Hall Witherell with Elizabeth Dubrulle and published as part of the Thoreau Project. It offers a biographical sketch and brief analyses of several major themes in Thoreau's writing (including transcendentalism, individualism, materialism and progress.
Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth tells the story of a woman brought up in the upper-classes who, when she has to support herself, learns the limitations of her skills and the scarcity of options available for women. As the heroine descends through ever-lower layers of society, Wharton offers a depiction of the way each class functions in late nineteenth century America. Wharton's books are sometimes described as "novels of manners," and she is seen as a protege of the novelist Henry James. However, Wharton's novels also offer strong critiques of the society she was portraying. In her preface to the Norton Critical Edition of the novel, Elizabeth Ammons explains:
Beginning in a very narrow, rarefied world of upper-class leisure and privilege but ending in a far different place, The House of Mirth raises a number of questions about American capitalism and class structure, gender relations in the worlds Wharton focuses on, connections and animosities among women within and across particular economic and social boundaries, white family structure in the United States, and the dynamic of ethnic assimilation and bias. Wharton, like many writers, was both the unthinking product of her time, place, class, and culture and a sharp critic and questioner.
Walt Whitman's poetry and prose was loved and hated by nineteenth century readers--there was no middle ground. Unlike the stately, formal poets who had preceded him, Whitman spoke out in a "barbaric yawp." Critics often saw the rawness of his style as quintessentially American--for better or worse. During the Civil War, Whitman went to Washington, DC to nurse his wounded brother and stayed to look after other hospitalized soldiers. He later published the notes he made during that period in a book called Specimen Days; his Civil War experiences also found expression in a number of moving poems. Whitman found the Civil War a confirmation of his belief in the greatness of the American people. For Whitman, the nation's glory is its men and women--ferry boat conductors, thieves, mothers, fur-trappers, Indians, prostitutes, soldiers--America's "great en-masse." At the University of Virginia's Walt Whitman Archive you can find biographical materials, bibliographies, and reviews as well as e-text versions of works by Whitman.
The grade you receive will reflect the extent to which you have met the following goals:
The better your analysis and evidence, the better your project will be. So as you proceed, you should be evaluating the quality of your ideas, sources, quotes, explanations, and overall organization. You need to be sure that you are raising the kinds of issues and citing the kinds of materials which characterize the best scholarship on your topic.
If you are doing a traditional research paper, you will have a greater responsibility for developing explanations and arguments.
If you are designing a web page and/or course materials, you will have a greater responsibility for raising appropriate questions, collecting (and reproducing or transcribing) relevant source materials, and arranging your resources in a way which invites others to use them to pursue substantive questions.
However, either kind of project should offer sources in support of an analysis of a significant topic.
Project Topics due. Workshop on effective on-line searching of web-sites, databases, and library catalogues.
Individual consultations. Bring your completed Research Worksheet to your session.
In-class draft workshop. Bring your draft on disk and be prepared to report on your progress.
Individual research consultations.
Projects should be submitted in next-to-final draft form Monday, March 29. Presentations will be due when we cover your topic in class. Final draft will be due during final exam period.