ENGLISH 372: American Romanticism


Texts (in VCU Bookstore)

Norton Anthology of American Literature. Volume I (5th edition, but you should be able to use an older one instead] 
The Blithedale Romance. Modern Library

Course Rationale

American romanticism, sometimes called the American Renaissance, set the patterns, artistic and philosophical, for much of the American literature to follow as well as much of what we now consider distinctively American conflicts, ideals, and even terrors. Therefore, we will approach the movement not in terms of history, author, or genre, but through the range of connecting ideas and patterns. Although I have--perhaps arbitrarily--chosen three themes for us to explore, we will also be aware of others. This means we will read works in juxtaposition, revisiting works and authors in different contexts. Though we will focus on the works assigned for each class, we will constantly be making connections with works read previously. 

We will collaborate on finding and exploring these connections. Not everyone can see everything, including me; as Emerson says, our vision is necessarily subjective, governed by the astigmatisms of experience we are rarely aware of. The greater truths come from bringing our different insights and knowledges together, and the collaborative classroom is the place for that. And in this class, that "space" will be largely electronic, as we will use the computer to do exactly that. 

In a sense we will be creating a class super-hypertext which will record, embed, and link our insights and connections in ways you've probably never imagined. It means that you must be very active (rather than passive) readers, generating ideas, comparisons, and links as you read and then regularly sharing them within the electronic class discussions. We may not agree but we will definitely be learning from each other. 

My role in this collaborative class is not the "keeper of the secrets of the text" or the "expert interpreter" but an experienced reader, more knowledgeable about literary conventions and contexts--and where to go for help, who is a coach and facilitator, delivering useful information and responding as one of this community of readers. When I "lecture," it may be usually be electronically after class discussion, as I try to address "gaps" that may have appeared and pull together ideas in my "response." I will often set up questions and directions for discussion for you to take to your reading, but I encourage you to develop your own questions and responses. And, of course, I will coach you well on how to use our electronic tools; although some familiarity with the computer is nice, it is not necessary. Also, as you learn something, you should share what you know! 

Writing and Test Assignments
I. Informal reading responses
For each class meeting after the first week, you will write a "starter thread" ending with an open question for the readings assigned (which you have read, including related web resources)  for that day which you should post before class (or within the first ten minutes) Some questions are posted on the syllabus which you might address. Or you might consider general questions: What do you find confusing (and why)? What do you find especially significant (and why)? Are there some interesting conflicts or ambiguities in the work? What seems to be "romantic" (and why)? What needs to be seen in light of the culture and events of the time (and how does that change it)? (30 course pts) 
2. Re-reading papers (3):
Just before each test, you must post a rereading paper (3 page minimum) which explores a significant point or question in a work (or 2 short poems) in that unit. Don't write on the same writer twice in the semester. You should refer specifically to related points made or questions raised in Webtexts and in our on-line discussions. You don't need to reach any grand conclusions (you might even explain why there is no good answer to the question you are exploring), but you do need a fairly clear line of argument that draws its support from the text. If you like, you may extend your response after a class discussion and post that paper at any time before the due date. The first two papers may be rewritten within a week after they are posted and critiqued within your group. (10 pts each; 30 course pts total) 
3. Comparison essays/tests (two tests and a final ): The essays will explore connections between the works read; the tests will be on your reading, especially points brought up in class discussion and the study hypertexts. (15/10/15 pts each; 40 course pts total) 
More on grading:
The quantity and quality of your on-line contributiions in the class will be evaluated at midterm and the end of the course; late work will carry half of its possible credit and must be marked as late. The final course grade (your accumulation of points) will be on a 10 point scale (A is 90-100, B is 80-90, C is 70-80, D is 60-70). 

Class Routines and Attendance
Meeting electronically.
We will be meeting in Hibbs 329 or on-line wherever you want to be during the class time. If you come to 329 (as I recommend, especially at the beginning of the class) we will also have some "off-line" discussions, focusing on  tricky points that have emerged in our discussions. You should begin a discussion thread  to the readings assigned within 10 minutes after class begins and then join in the on-line conversations for the FULL class period. (If there are occasional classes when you cannot be on-line during that time, you may post your starter threads earlier and join the discussions within 24 hours, but this should be rare and you cannot expect response to your ideas).

This class is conducted a little differently from most, as I'm sure you've already figured out, and most of it will be conducted on-line. Much of what I want you to learn about a work, especially questions you should be exploring, will be posted on the Web from the syllabus and I expect you to respond to those materials. However, I also want you to verbalize your impressions of the works before you read any of those materials, because your "unvarnished" interpretation is also important. 

Timeliness is everything in a collaborative class built on student discussion, as this one is. Even though the computer seems to allow you to procrastinate by entering your responses later, that is NOT the case, since it would mean that you are then not an effective part of the discussion, electronic or verbal. A major requirement is that you attend class regularly and that you do the assigned readings and respond to them as noted above.  Attendance and late work, then, are calculated into the response paper grade (which is 30% of your course grade!). 

E-mail Communication
Blackboard is set up so that you must establish and use your VCU mail account. Even if you have another account, it would be best if you use your VCU account through http://webmail.vcu.edu for all class communications. It is possible to forward your VCU mail to another account, if you prefer. You should, of course, check the account at least daily, since that is our primary means of communication.

Honor Policy.
Because our work will often be collaborative, there are important integrity issues. You should not copy or print anyone's work from the computer without their permission and you should not "jump ahead" by reading hypertext or other responses before you have written your own. In other words, respect the work of others and in no way present it as your own.  You will need to sign an honor card at the first class.
Disabilities: If you have any documented special learning needs, please let me know immediately so we can figure out whether I can help.