eng216 design your own course on american literature from the civil war to the present choosing the readings that will comprise the course and the approaches that will be used to study the literature 1

Final Project: Create Your Own American Literature Course


Throughout the semester, we have explored the question we addressed in the very first Writer’s Journal: what is American Literature? We have studied American Literature through various approaches and frameworks, and have seen how the field of American Literature looks different depending upon whose story we are reading.

For your final project, you will design your own course on American Literature from the Civil War to the Present, choosing the readings that will comprise the course and the approaches that will be used to study the literature. You are encouraged to explore readings and topics that relate to your personal interests, but be sure to include enough variety in your course to allow for the study of American Literature in multiple historical and social contexts from the Civil War to the present day.

Project requirements:­­­­­

  • 5-page double-spaced essay explaining your course and course readings
  • Reading selections: links to or copies of all works you will include in your course (use excerpts when appropriate)
  • MLA Works Cited page listing all of your sources (including your chosen readings and any sources you used throughout the research process)

The readings you include in your American Literature Course must include the following:

  • 2-3 readings from our course (no more or less)
  • A minimum of 5 new texts we did not read in our course, for a total of 7 texts minimum
  • At least 3 different literary genres (poetry, plays, short stories, novels, speeches, essays, graphic novels, letters and autobiographies are a few examples of different literary genres)
  • Readings of varied lengths (in other words, do not make your course all short poems or essays – try to include some longer works or full books as well)
  • Be sure that all readings are works of American Literature that follow the timeline of our course: Civil War era to the present

Class Collection of Readings:

By 5/3, I will ask you to submit one reading (or excerpt from a reading) totaling no more than 5 pages that you plan to include in your American Literature course. I will ask you to share your reading on Blackboard and write a post explaining why you’ve chosen this piece and what its significance is to your course. During the weeks that you are working on designing your course, you will also read and respond to some of the literary texts that your classmates are planning to include in their courses. This will help you think further about the different ways an American Literature course might be designed.

Guidelines for the Essay:

The 5-page written assignment for this project will be a reflective essay on how and why you selected your course readings and designed your course in the way you did.

Imagine your audience as students who will be taking your course next semester: what would you want them to know about how you designed the course, why you chose the readings you’ve selected, and what you hope they will get out of taking the course?

To help you develop and organize your essay, consider the following suggestions:

  • Include an explanation of how the class will approach the study of American Literature in this course: what specific aspects of the field will the course focus on or what approaches to literary study will the course take?
  • Discuss the course’s organizational structure(s): did you design this course chronologically, generically, culturally, thematically? Why? What are both the advantages and the limitations of this organizational structure (i.e., historical gaps or jumps, unrepresented genres, etc.)?
  • Offer a rationale for the texts you have included: why is each text important or relevant to your course? How do these texts relate to one another and fit together to create a comprehensive picture of American literature and America itself? Depending on how many texts you include, you might discuss each text individually, or you might discuss texts together in pairs or groups if they relate to the same historical period, thematic focus, etc.
  • In order to clearly demonstrate why a text fits in with your course or is important to read, it is advisable to include some quotations from your texts that are particularly powerful, memorable, or telling
  • You might mention 1 or 2 texts that were not included in your project: what works did you read or encounter but ultimately not include as part of your course? This might include works that you enjoyed or found very important, but did not have room for. It also might include works that you read (including any from our class syllabus) that you did not enjoy or find important, or that did not seem to fit in with your approach(es) to “American Literature” for this course.

Please note: Throughout the semester, we have discussed connections and parallels between American literature and other art forms such as music and film (see Discussion Board #5 and Writer’s Journal #10, for example). For this project, you are welcome to include songs or spoken-word poetry, and these can count toward your required number of texts and genres.

If you want to include other art forms in your course (a film; documentary; television series or episode; photograph; painting; etc.), you are also welcome to do so, but these should be in addition to, not in place of, the required literary texts. Your course should primarily be a literature course, but in some cases, you may want your “students” to study literature in comparison to other works.


Getting Started:

Please see the page on our Blackboard site titled “Useful Resources for Final Project” which includes a variety of suggestions for conducting research and exploring approaches to this project, as well as sample projects by former students.

Other useful resources for brainstorming and getting started:

Contact a QCC librarian for help or suggestions

Explore books online through the New York Public Library branches

Project Gutenberg: www.gutenberg.org – over 45,000 free ebooks (also on Blackboard)

Academy of American Poets: www.poets.org – extensive archive of American poetry (also on Bb)

Poetry Foundation: www.poetryfoundation.org – free access to thousands of poems (also on Bb)

Type the title of a book you like into Amazon.com and see what other suggestions come up by similar writers or on similar topics (for example, what other books does Amazon suggest for you if you search for The Color Purple or for Nickel and Dimed?)

Use Google Books to find excerpts of many published books, eliminating the need to buy or borrow

Reach out to family, friends, past teachers of courses – what do the people in your life think of when they hear the term “American Literature”? What works of American Literature have your family and friends read? What works of American Literature have you been assigned by teachers in past courses?

Possible Approaches to Designing a Course on American Literature:

Historical Periods/Literary Movements:

Civil War (1861-65; Stephen Crane, Walt Whitman)

Reconstruction (1865-1877)

Realist Literature (1865-1915; Mark Twain, Jacob Riis)

Modernist Literature (1915-1945; F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner)

Harlem Renaissance (1920s; Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston)

Roaring Twenties (1920s)

Great Depression (1930s; John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos)

Beat Generation (1950s) (Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac)

Feminism (1950s-1970s; Betty Freidan, Sylvia Plath, Alice Walker, Sandra Cisneros, bell hooks)

Counter-cultural revolution (1960s-1970s)

Vietnam War (1960s-1970s; Tim O’Brien)

9/11 and Post-9/11 Literature (2001-Present)

Multi-Ethnic American Literary Groups:

African American literature (Ralph Ellison; Richard Wright; Toni Morrison; bell hooks)

Asian American literature (subcategories: Chinese American literature, Japanese American literature, Korean American literature, Vietnamese American literature, Indian American literature, etc.)

Latino/a American literature (subcategories: Puerto Rican American literature, Dominican American literature, Haitian American literature, Cuban American literature, etc.)

Native American literature

Arab American literature

Italian American literature

Irish American literature

Jewish American literature

American Literary “Sub-Fields”/Special Topics:

Detective Fiction

Comics / Graphic Genres

Women Writers

Multilingual American Literature

Regional Literatures (New York, The South, The Midwest, etc.)

Children’s Literature

Science Fiction

Banned Books

Pulitzer-Prize Winning Authors and Nominees (non-exhaustive):

Gwendolyn Brooks

Willa Cather

Junot Díaz

Jeffrey Eugenides

Louise Erdrich

William Faulkner

Robert Frost

Ellen Glasgow

Ernest Hemingway

Oscar Hijeulos

Barbara Kingsolver

Jhumpa Lahiri

Chang-rae Lee

Harper Lee

Sinclair Lewis

Arthur Miller

Margaret Mitchell

N. Scott Momaday

Toni Morrison

Sylvia Plath

Thomas Pynchon

Philip Roth

John Steinbeck

John Updike

Alice Walker

Robert Penn Warren

Eudora Welty

Tennessee Williams

William Carlos Williams

August Wilson

Edith Wharton

Sample Courses by English 216 Students:

Becoming American: First Generation American Literature

African American Women in Literature

How to Make It in America: Lessons from American Literature

Changes: Progress in American Literature and History from the Civil War to the Present

Civil Rights and Liberty in American Literature