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


Admission requirements

Literature 1A and/or Literature 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

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

  • aims to give 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.
    It also helps students

  • develop critical and analytical skills, e.g. recognition of and insight into genre, narrative strategies, and rhetorical devices

  • practise basic research skills (find, use, and document secondary sources according to MLA style), and

  • develop and practise oral and written communication skills in English (discussion, essay, exams)


See timetable English

Mode of instruction


Course Load

The course load of this course is 140 hours

  • hours spent on attending lectures and seminars: 26

  • time for studying the compulsory literature: 80

  • time to prepare for the exam and/or write a paper (including reading / research) 34

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.
    The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.

If the final grade is insufficient, students have to retake the exam in January or rewrite the essay.

Attendance is compulsory. Unauthorized absence will mean that you cannot take part in the relevant exam(s).


Blackboard will be used to provide students with an overview of current affairs, as well as specific information about (components of) the course, such as weekly discussion questions, links to recommended secondary literature and websites, essay topics, sample exam questions.

Reading list

Norton Anthology of American Literature (NAAL), 8th ed., vol A and B
Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick, Norton Critical Edition, 2nd ed.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Penguin).
Note: Purchase of these books is required and the assigned texts have to be brought to class. Make sure you have the edition listed above!


Enrollement trough uSis is mandatory. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272144 or

Contact details

English Language and Culture student administration, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144;
Coordinator 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.