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.

  • 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)

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

  • 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.

  • 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: