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Literature 3A: American Literature, Beginnings to 1865


Admission requirements

Students in English: Literature 1A and Literature 2, or equivalent. Minor students: none.


This seminar surveys the development of a distinctly American literary culture and history from the first encounters between Native Americans and Europeans to the mid-nineteenth century. In exploring this expanding terrain, we will encounter new genres and media, consider the impact of race and gender on ideas of freedom and democracy, and assess the formation of an American literary canon. Our goal is a critical familiarity with texts that have claimed a place in American literary history and the social movements that produced them. We will consider: what constitutes "American literature" before 1789? What factors determined the canonization of primarily English language texts from a multi-lingual, multi-colonial, and native population? How have pre-revolutionary and antebellum America been represented in our own time?

Course objectives

  • To evaluate works of U.S. American literature during the colonial and early national periods from the standpoint of genre, historical context, and literary conventions.

  • To identify and understand persistent American mythologies rooted in this period.

  • To analyze a wide-range of challenging historical texts using established critical approaches by style, genre, and rhetorical aim.

  • To develop MLA-based and archival research skills in the composition of a term essay, and to improve written communication through in-class writing assignments.

  • To communicate ideas in discussion, oral and written presentations, and collaborative team-work.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Midterm Exam: Written Examination with closed questions and essay questions

  • Paper: Essay and analysis of 1500 words

  • Oral Presentation

  • Participation


  • Midterm Exam: Written Examination with closed questions and essay questions: 30%

  • Paper: Essay and analysis of 1500 words: 30%

  • Oral Presentation: 30%

  • Participation: 10%


If the final mark is insufficient, students can resit the part(s) that was (were) insufficient: the essay and/or one combined resit exam covering the entire course. The sufficient parts cannot be retaken. Regular attendance, preparation for the class and participation in it are required elements of this course. Students who have been absent for more than 50% of the lectures may not resit the exam and/or paper.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Required: Norton Anthology of American Literature (NAAL), vol. A & B
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Students will be required to write the paper on one of the following texts:
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass “Song of Myself” Walt Whitman
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs

(Note: do not purchase all four books; students will be choosing one of these four texts)


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

General information about MyStudyMap is available on the website

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


This is the first of three survey courses in American literature (lit 3a, 4a, and 5a), which can also be taken individually and/or in combination with the introduction to American Studies “From the Pilgrims to the Present.” This course is a required course for students taking the minor in American Studies.
This course may be adjusted, depending on the measures taken regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.