Topic outline



    Fall 2015:  We'll use this Moodle page as the digital syllabus for our course.  Consult it each week during the semester. 

    Please download (and, if you prefer, print) the documents on this site as needed.  Please bring a digital device with Internet access (preferably a laptop or a pad/tablet) to each class, to access the documents and also Web links as needed.

    NOTE:  This English 53R Moodle page is substantially complete, but changes will be made throughout the semester.  If you encounter any errors or problems, please email Prof. Schmidt right away.  Thank you.

    Grading for this course:  30% of your final grade will be based on the quality of your attendance and participation, the first two writing assignments, and your in-class presentations; 70% will be based on your final research project for the course, due by Dec. 19.

    • Based on sign-ups, for the second half of the semester (and the first).  Please download for your English53R files.

      Correct as of Sept. 29th; let me know if any changes need to be made.

  • Introductory class (Aug. 31)

    We'll discuss the course organization and the Baldwin and Gaiman essays, plus your own plans for research.

    To prepare for class, read the two essays below and look over the course syllabus.  

  • Willa Cather's My Antonia (Sept. 7)

  • Digital Archive Work (Sept. 14)

    • Read the first 2 essays in this selection of different scholars' takes on the research and teaching issues in the Humanities that digital archives raise.   (You're welcome to read other essays in the pdf selection if you want, but we'll focus on the first two, Stallybrass's and McGann's.  They were the ones I thought most relevant for our course.)

      We'll discuss these essays' claims in class, then do some of our own exploration of one archive, COHA (Corpus of Historical American English 1810-2009; see link at top of this page).

    • Please download and study Davies' essay before class.  We'll test out and discuss some examples of searches in class, then you can try some on your own.  Focus primarily on the intro and section #1, which takes you through some of the basic search possibilities.   We can try out some of these searches in class too, but try some ahead of time using Davies' examples as a guide.  Note:  as I mention above, before class meets this week please open an account on the COHA website (it's free).

      We'll also look at Davies' discussion of other digital archives (section 3).  You're welcome but not required to read section 2.

  • Sept. 21: Theory: Edward Said and Caroline Levine

    • An excerpt from Said's famous essay "Reflections on Exile." (He was Palestinian but lived and taught for years in the U.S., at Columbia University.  You can find more detailed biographical facts online.)  

      Focus especially on pp. 143-49 of this pdf, Said's reflections on the paradoxical experiences of exile and why he values reading and interpreting "contrapuntally."  (You may of course read the entire essay if you like.) 

    • Read the Preface and Introduction for this week's class.

      Want to read more, either now or later this semester?  Levine's Forms is on General Reserve in McCabe for English 53R.

  • Hemingway (Sept. 28, Oct. 5, and Oct. 19)

    Download and use the Hemingway readings assignment for these 3 classes (see below).  The classes will focus on selected Hemingway stories, his novel The Old Man and the Sea, and excerpts from Paul Hendrickson's biography Hemingway's Boat.  These 3 texts are in the Swarthmore College bookstore.

  • two short writing assignments are due any time during the first half of the semester (before you leave for fall break)

    Both short papers (4-6pp. double-spaced) are due before fall break (you can set your own deadline).  I recommend doing at least one of these assignments by the end of September.

    Assignment 1:  choose a brief (2pp. max) passage from either Cather's My Antonia or one of the assigned Hemingway texts and do a close reading of it.  Next:

    • focus first on the overall drama of this passage:  what occurs and why is it important? what key questions does it raise for interpretation?
    • identify some key words or phrases and discuss why they are important--their meanings, their ambiguities, etc.  Pay particular attention to figurative language (metaphors implied or stated, irony, etc.)
    • what further questions would you ask about this passage and how we might read it?  why do you think these are important?
    • how does this particular passage help us think more deeply about the whole of the work from which it is taken?
    • you're welcome to include in your essay any other approaches to reading the passage that appeal to you

    Assignment 2:  choose one of the critical theory texts we've read so far.  Write a brief analysis of that text, focusing on the following:

    • summarize the argument's 2-3 most important points and explore how those points are developed and supported with evidence
    • evaluate those points:  why do you think they are important?  are the author's claims about these points persuasive to you? (why or why not?)  
    • what contradictions or uncertainties, if any, do you find in the article, and what do you think these reveal?
    • what do you think are the limitations or dangers of the author's proposed approach?  
    • how would you respond to or debate this author?  what improvements in method would you suggest?

    PLEASE UPLOAD BOTH SHORT PAPERS USING THE ACCOMPANYING UPLOAD LINK.  YOUR PAPERS SHOULD BE IN EITHER .docx or .doc format; please do not upload pdfs or other formats.  Thank you.  Prof. Schmidt will give you feedback on both exercises.  We'll also model in class both how to do close readings and how to be a creative and critical reader of "critical theory" essays.

  • Slavery-to-Freedom narratives (4 classes: Oct. 26, Nov. 2, Nov. 9, and Nov. 16)

    Frederick Douglass, Harriett Jacobs, and some contemporary writers' re-working of the ex-slave or freedom narrative.  See the sections below for the weekly assignments.

    "The function of freedom is to free someone else." 

     —Toni Morrison


  • Harriet Jacobs (Nov. 2)

    See the assignments document above and the Jacobs study questions guide below.

    • Please use this guide as you read Jacobs' narrative.  

    • Definitely view this brief pdf.  Includes:

      • creepy photo thought to be of Dr. James Norcom ("Dr. Flint")
      • will leaving "my negro girl Harriet" and other "possessions" to a three-year-old niece
      • Norcom's newspaper ad offering $100 for Jacobs' capture and return
      • architectural rendering of Jacobs' "loophole of retreat" (her hiding space in her grandmother's house)
      • 2-pp. excerpt from Yellin's introduction, for our discussion

      All items are from Jean Fagan Yellin's original edition of Jacobs' Incidents, published by Harvard Univ. Press, 1987.

    • From the 1864-65 period, when Harriet Jacobs and her daughter worked in Alexandria Virginia aiding the freedmen and women, founding the Harriet Jacobs school, etc.   A pdf--download for your course files.  Courtesy of Christopher Densmore and the Swarthmore Friends Historical Library, which has the complete print run of the Friends' Intelligencer publication.

  • Freedom narratives, class #3 [November 9]: Octavia Butler

    A look at Octavia Butler's startling novel Kindred (1979), one of many so-called fictional "neo-slave narratives" published in the 1970s and after, the most famous of which is probably Toni Morrison's Beloved.  Kindred is available in the Swarthmore bookstore.  Read the novel for this week and, afterwards, also read the excellent introductory essay in the Bluestreak edition.

    Butler is often discussed as a 'sf' or 'fantasy' author, and brick-and-mortal bookstores (where they exist) still often shelve her fiction on either or both of those genre shelves, or in the African American section, rather than in general Fiction.  Let's discuss the politics of genre literature and literary marketing, among other topics.

    Assignment for this week:  

    • read Butler's Kindred, then a 1988 introduction to the novel by Robert Crossley (see below)
    • read Neighbors' review of the historian Eric Foner's new book on the Underground Rail Road in New York*
    • read Swarthmore President Valerie Smith's account of the rise of the genre of the "neo-slave narrative" in the 1990s (a classic essay)

    *the Underground RR is strictly speaking not directly connected to Butler's novel, though her two heroes when in the South pretend to others that they're from New York.  But two issues that the review focuses on are highly relevant to our readings of ex-slave/freedom narratives:  our views of how to understand the past, including anti-slavery activity, has greatly changed over the years (why?); our views of how social change occurs have also somewhat changed.  Let's discuss both these topics this week, in the context of also discussing Butler's powerful journey back into the U.S. past.

  • Freedom Narratives, class 4 [Nov. 16]

    Student presentations on Douglass, Jacobs, or on postmodern freedom narratives of your choice (see the assignment #4 for this module of our course).  

    We'll also begin discussing and drafting research questions for your individual student research projects that will be your focus for the rest of the semester.   Just to clarify: your project doesn't have to be on Cather, Hemingway, or an ex-slave/freedom narrative--but I hope some of you will consider digging deeper into any of the subjects & approaches we've explored so far.  

    In short, your projects can go more in depth into any topics studied in English 53R so far, or can be on a new topic (author, text, period, etc.) related to U.S. literature of any period that interests you.  You should confer with Prof. Schmidt at an earlier stage in planning your research topic and approach, but this class will give you the opportunity to present some of your research ideas to your classmates and get their feedback.

  • open classes for research and student presentations

    3 classes:  Nov. 23, 30, and Dec. 7

    These classes will primarily be "study halls" were all of you can work together on your various projects.  We'll also devote some class time to informal summaries and presentations on your ongoing research, so that you can ask questions of your classmates and get their feedback and support.

    Final projects are due no later than Saturday, Dec. 19.  No extensions.

    Plan on doing a final research paper of between 15-25pp. double-spaced, depending on your topic and format.  You must engage with some secondary sources, as appropriate, and supply an accompanying Works Cited of all of your secondary sources.  We'll discuss options and models for a research paper in class.

    Note:  one of your options will be doing a lesson plan for a high school or college/university teacher on your chosen topic.  Once revised and approved, this lesson plan can be posted under your name on Prof. Schmidt's website and blog, accessible to teachers all over the world.  We can discuss this option more fully in class and I can provide you with a model for what a literature lesson plan looks like.  Students are especially encouraged to consider this option if you've taken Education Studies 14, but that is not required.

  • Upload your final paper using the link below:

    • After saving a copy of your essay (or 2 copies) for yourself, please upload your essay here in either .docx or .doc (Word) format, NOT pdf or Pages.  It's easier for me to comment on Word files than on pdfs, and I don't like using Pages.

      Deadline for your upload:  Saturday, Dec. 19th, 5pm