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Literature 3A: The American Renaissance, American Literature, 1620-1865


Admission requirements

Successful completion of Literature 1A and 2, or equivalent.


We shall begin the course by tracing American literature to its seventeenth-century Puritan beginnings, focusing on the spiritual autobiography, a genre that greatly influenced some of the later works we will read, including Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. The main focus of the course will be on the American Renaissance (1836-1861), however. In this era of Romantic revolution, the philosopher-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson became an important agent of cultural change and a major influence on many of his contemporaries, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and even the more critical Herman Melville. With the publication of The Scarlet Letter (1850), Moby-Dick (1851), and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), the literature of the new American republic came to rank with the classics of world literature for the first time, while Whitman and Emily Dickinson produced poems that, advanced beyond their own age, signaled the advent of modern poetry. The period also marked the beginning of an African American literary tradition, as Frederick Douglass and other fugitive slaves published autobiographical narratives that had a great impact on black writers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We shall study the above-mentioned works and authors not only in their literary-historical context, but also in the context of the political and social developments and debates about slavery, gender, and the role of the individual, all of which are still relevant today.

Course objectives

This course aims to give

  • a survey of early American literature from 1620 to 1865, with a focus on the period between 1836-1860

  • and insight into the place of the literary works we’ll discuss in their historical context, in intellectual and literary movements (Puritanism, Enlightenment, Romanticism) and in political and social debates about slavery, gender and individualism
    and help students

  • develop critical and analytical skills, both orally (by participation in class discussion) and in writing (essay, written exams)

  • develop and practise basic research skills (find, use, and document secondary sources)

  • develop and practise speaking and writing skills in English (discussion, essay, exam)


The timetable will be available by June 1st on the website

Mode of instruction seminar


Assessment method

  • Midterm written exam with essay questions

  • A 1500-word essay

  • Final written exam with closed questions (10%) and essay questions (90%)
    The final grade will be the average of the exam and essay grades


At least four weeks before the course starts, the Blackboard site will be open for self-enrolment. There you can find the course syllabus, as well as study questions, recommended critical articles, links to useful websites, essay topics, and sample exam questions. Please note that there is a reading assignment for week 1 (see syllabus on Blackboard). See Blackboard

Reading list

Norton Anthology of American Literature (NAAL), 7th or 8th ed., vol A and B
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, Norton Critical Edition, 2nd ed.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Penguin).


Students should register through uSis. Exchange students cannot register through uSis, but must see the director of studies and register with her. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272144 or mail:
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


Departmental Office English Language and Culture, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144; mail:
Co-ordinator of Studies: Ms T.D. Obbens, MA, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103C.


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 Bradford to Obama.” This course is a required course for students taking the minor in American Studies.