American Literary History II        
Prof. Christopher Wilson   Fall 2010     
EN 142.01 An Undergraduate Elective at Boston College   John Sloan, "Six O'Clock"

Monday/ Wednesday/Friday at 11

Prof. Christopher P. Wilson

You can email Prof. Wilson by clicking

Course Description
Course Requirements    
Writing Links

Research Links    
Course Policies

Prof. Wilson's Office Hours                                            
(Carney 435, 617-552-3719)
Monday 1-2  
Wed. 1-2:45  
Friday  1-2                                 
and at other times (email me and we'll arrange a suitable time to meet)

The seventy-five years following the Civil War were an era of fundamental changes in U.S. society: the demise of the slave system and the rise of segregation; the emergence of corporate culture, imperial adventurism, and successive waves of immigration; new roles for women and the young, new patterns in cities and in regional byways, and new ideas imagined for reordering society.  American literature, in turn, became genuinely multicultural and transnational, energized by new experimentation in the visual arts and photography, and open to new ideas about American liberty, citizenship, and more.

Through interdisciplinary lectures on historical and biographical backgrounds, and in-class discussions, this
course is designed as an introduction to American Literature (primarily fiction) in this period (roughly, 1860 to 1914). The course is only "introductory" in that no prior knowledge of the literature from this period is assumed; otherwise, the course is designed to be as rigorous and challenging as other English electives. Lectures (about one every five classes) will provide biographical and historical background; discussions (the other four of five) will focus on interpreting and debating the texts. We will have one optional field trip (to Boston's Victorian society), two required films centering on the relationship of American photography & film to their cultural moment, and a chance for (ungraded) creative work/research as well.

This course is especially well-suited for students with interdisciplinary minors, such as American Studies, Women's Studies, and African and African Diaspora Studies.
(And you need not have taken ALH 1 to take this class.)

The following course texts are required.  (E) signals a text this syllabus also links to, as an etext:

I have also ordered Abraham Cahan's Yekl, The Imported Bridegroom, and Other Stories, but be advised that we'll only be reading Yekl itself, for which you can find an E-text on line. We will also be reading a short novella, Louisa May Alcott's Behind a Mask, on line, as well as a few short stories.  As far as the texts listede above go, any edition of these texts that you buy on your own (e.g. used) or borrow from a library should be fine; there will also be a version of the Crane text on our Blackboard site.  Many of these texts (e.g. Gilman's, Alcott's, Far's and Chesnutt's) can often be found on line beyond the etexting I've indicated. For our e-texts, you should use the web links from this syllabus.  

Diana Hacker's A Pocket Style Manual has been put on reserve to help you with your writing; correction marks on your papers will be keyed to this text as well.

But whether you use a book or use an etext,  you should always bring a hard copy of your text (not a laptop) to class on discussion days. You can either go to the Reserve Desk in O'Neill and make copies of the short stories which we will be reading together, or download your copies from e-texts on the Web. 

Course Requirements

  1. Very Regular Class Attendance and Participation , including participation in an in-class panel presentation. I have a three-cut maximum. For guidelines about these presentations, click here
  2. An ungraded one or two- page creative-arts submission either (a) two from our the Multi-Media materials on our Blackboard Site , (b) from the Smithsonian On-line "American Memory Project," or (c) submission for an in-class Creative Writing Workshop (To Get to this Assignment, click here )  
  3. One Short Paper (4-5 pp.)  
  4. One Longer Paper (involving research or work with a critical essay) (5-7 pp.)
  5. Two film viewings ("Birth of a Nation" and "America and Lewis Hine")
  6. A Final Closed Book Exam on Lectures, Discussions, and Course Readings at the Regular University-Time. This exam will focus on the syllabus readings, and will involve identifications and mastery of specific details from these texts.

    Wed.  8  Opening Day:  Introduction 

    Want to see a Timeline of Events for the period we're covering in this course?  Click here.

    For background purposes, you can also read the two chapters on Blackboard from Rebecca Edwards' New Spirits:  Americans in the Gilded Age:  the chapters entitled "An Uneasy Peace" and "Reach." The first chapter will be particularly relevant to our discussion of Jacobs; the second to our discussion of Howells.  For a good discussion of the issue of "contracts" as it relates to race and gender, read the background essay by Amy Stanley on our Blackboard Site.

I.  Prologue:  House Building / Coming North

Fri.  10 Lecture:  Slaves and Free(wo)men

Mon. 13  Discussion: Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave-Girl
Wed.  15  Discussion:  Jacobs -2-
Fri.  17 Discussion:  Jacobs -3-


Mon.  20 Lecture:  Going North: William Dean Howells
Wed. 22  Discussion: Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham -1-
Fri.  24  Discussion: Howells -2-


Mon.  27 Discussion: Howells -3-

II. The Work of Women                                                

Wed. 29 Lecture:  Pen and Power:  Women's Writing

Fri. 1 Panel Discussion:  Sarah Orne Jewett, "A White Heron"   You can use an on-line text by clicking here    If you'd rather use a print version, "A White Heron" is on reserve in Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories, and in both the Heath and PreMary Cassatt, Babyntice-Hall Anthologies of American Literature as well


Mon.  4  Discussion:  Louisa May Alcott,  Behind a Mask.    An on-line version from the University of Virginia is available, by clicking here   If you'd rather use a print version, you can xerox a copy from Alternative Alcott, which is on Reserve.

Wed.  6  Discussion: Alcott -2-

If you'd like to see a couple of famous images of "Judith and Holofernes," click here and here 

The Camera Eye #1:   Please look at the distributed Photo Gallery, "The Faces of Emancipation," sent out by email and also on our class Blackboard Site. 

III.  Race and Reunion

Fri.  8  Lecture:  Reading "Race":  Mark Twain and Charles Chesnutt

(For the full text of Mark Twain's famous lecture on "The Sandwich islands," click here 

Mon.  11   Columbus Day   No Class

The Camera Eye #2: This week and next, there will be showings of BIRTH OF A NATION at Noon & 8:00pm, on BC Cable's Channel 52.  Please make sure you watch it.

Wed. 13  Discussion:  Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson
Fri. 15  Discussion:  Twain,  -2-

Mon.  18 Discussion:  Twain -3-
Wed.  20 Panel DiscussionCharles W. Chesnutt, "The Goopher'd Grapevine"   For a collection of our first two tales, originally appearing in The Conjure Woman, click here
Fri.    22  Discussion:  Chesnutt, "Po' Sandy"

Mon.  25  Discussion: Chesnutt,   "The Passing of  Grandison"  Please also read "The Wife of His Youth" and "What is a White Man?" (The Last item By clicking here)

IV.  Cities, Immigrants, New Porftolios

Wed. 27  Lecture:   Reading the Streets

The Camera Eye #3:  During these weeks, we will also have a showing of "AMERICA AND LEWIS HINE," a documentary about the famous child-labor photographer.  Please make sure you see it. Click here as well to see An Exhibit of Lewis Hine's Reform Photographs

Fri.  29   Discussion:  Stephen Crane, Maggie A Girl of the Streets


Mon. 1    Lewis Hine, "Dannie Mercurio"Creative Writing Day:  Stephen Crane's Style
Wed.  3   Discussion:  Crane, 3
Fri. 5     Lecture/ Discussion;  Abraham Cahan, Yekl   There is an on-line version available here

Mon. 8   Discusison:  Yekl, -2-
Wed.  10    Panel Discussion (Rules, Loopholes, Symbols):  Sui Sin Far, "In the Land of the Free"
 Fri. 12   Discussion:  Sui Sin Far, "Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian"

Mon. 15  Lecture:  Transnationalism, Gender, Utopia
Wed. 17   Panel Debate: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland
Fri. 19      NO CLASS  (I'll be at an Academic Conference)


Mon. 22   Discussion:  Gilman -2

Thanksgiving Vacation

Mon. 29  Discussion;  Gilman -3-  


Wed.  1   Panel Discussion: Pauline Hopkins,    Of One Blood (also in The Magazine Novels of Pauline Hopkins, on Reserve)

Fri.  3 Discussion:  Hopkins -2-
Mon.  6  Discussion: Hopkins -3-

Wed. 8  Last Class Day    Final Paper Due  /   Exam Review Sheets Distributed



Links to Writing Handouts from this Course:

Six Conventions It's Good to Know for College Papers   [Download the PDF]

A Few Tips on Effective Quotation   [Download the PDF]

Click Here to see the Correction Code Used on Your Papers

Never Learned How to Punctuate?  Read Russell Baker's Advice    
[ Download the Pdf]

The Simplified MLA Citation System You Should Use for Documenting Your Paper   [Download the PDF]

Alas, My own Pet Peeves:  Ten Suggestions to Improve Your Writing   [Download the PDF]

Some Convenient Links in American Studies

Course Policies:

1.    Class attendance is required.  You are allowed three cuts (hereby defined as an "unexcused absence") without penalty.   Absence in excess of this three-cut maximum can lower your grade--and, in extreme cases, be grounds for failing the course altogether.  If there is a good reason why you have had to miss a class, please don't hesitate to tell me--and better yet, tell me in advance. I say that because the University no longer provides confirmation for health absences--and with the potential of another H1N1 flu season upon us, as you may know, it may be that the University will ask that you not to go class if you are showing symptoms. So please communicate electronically with me as soon as possible.  It may be that you will be asked to complete an on-line assignment until you are better. Otherwise I use a (World Cup-inspired) "yellow card" system that warns you once if you are at risk, and then I'll notify you a second time if you will not be passing the course. Meanwhile, one related request:  even though many of you are accustomed to “multi-tasking”--and open laptops for note-taking are welcome on lecture days--please recognize that web browsing, emailing or instant-messaging are not acceptable practices in classroom time.  The same goes for texting:  turn your cell phones off when in class. If you are found texting in class, you will be asked to leave the classroom for that day.
     Course announcements and any changes to this syllabus will be made regularly via email and on our Blackboard site. If your email is different from what is officially listed with the university, it is your responsibility to let me know.

2.      Class participation can account for about 25% of your grade.  Generally,  I try to use your class participation (including your work on panels or  "kick-off" presentations) as a measure of how well you have read and  understood the assignments.  I use a sliding scale for class participation:   the better you do, the larger part of grade will reflect your participation.  I use 4 categories:  "A" (25%), "B" (15%), "C" (10%) and "D" (0%). Class participation will never pull down your overall grade; however, infrequent class participation willmake your overall grade more dependent on the final exam.

The idea here is to encourage strong class participation, but not to penalize unduly those who are silent or feel uncomfortable speaking. If your participation reflects strong reading skills, consideration for others' viewpoints, and frequent contributions to the flow of discussion, your class "average" can be boosted considerably.   For this course,

if your class participation grade is "A":

First Short Paper Multimedia 1-2 pp. Paper Final Longer Paper  Class Particip.  Final Exam
       15%  (ungraded)        35%           25%      25%

If your class participation is "D":
First Short Paper Multimedia 1-2 pp. Paper Final Longer Paper Class Particip. Final Exam
       15%   (ungraded)      35%         0      50%

Your participation grade will be available around mid-term and before the final  (and other times if you ask).

3.      As I say above, please note that the final exam will include identifications from the readings covered over the semester--and that identifications can come from some of the more "marginal" moments in the texts covered (that is, not necessarily material mentioned in class or covered by your papers).   The purpose of this emphasis on textual detail is to reward those class members who have read carefully and closely over the semester.  So plan ahead, and read carefully.

4. Papers are generally on texts not covered on the syllabus per se.  When you submit a paper, it should be neatly word-processed and double-spaced. Please do not use a separate title page; try to keep your font between 12 and 14. In addition, you are required to keep a "hard" copy of the paper you hand in. That way, if your paper is lost, you can simply re-submit your hard copy.
    All papers must include a “Works Consulted” list at the end of the paper; just draw a horizontal line, and add the list.  If you’ve consulted no other works than the primary text or film of your paper’s discussion, just list the title of your primary text.  If you want to refer to class lectures, just list that in the list as well:  e.g. “Class Lecture, 10/22/09.”  For purposes of academic integrity, this list will serve as your assurance that you have consulted no sources, including internet sources, other than what appears on this “works consulted” list.  For that reason alone, papers without such a list may be returned to you until you provide one, and you can have your grade docked accordingly. To understand the “citation” system we’re using, click here .

5. Papers are due on the assigned dates. Generally, I allow 24 hours leeway (after the class start time) without penalty; after that, you will be penalized about 1/3 grade for every part of 24 hours the paper is late. The idea of this  "leeway" period is that you should never miss a class in order to type a paper; come to class, and turn the paper in later. I'm sorry to say that I cannot accept email submissions without advance permission. Papers are considered "submitted" when they arrive in hard copy. After a week, I must assign an "F" to any paper not turned in. After three weeks, it is assigned a "0".  Any paper not submitted before the final exam is also assigned a "0". 

6. Everyone should feel that office hours are for "hashing out" class discussions, lectures, and the progress of the course  generally.  If you feel confused, bored, unchallenged, or otherwise distressed, please come see me.  If my office hours don't fit  your schedule, just talk to me in class about setting up another  time. Small groups are welcome, and most welcome are discussions about the ideas of the course. I'm also open to conversations on email, but try to avoid this as a substitute for a face-to-face conference, particularly about planning or following up on your papers.  Given the sheer volume of messages and the differences between your schedule and mine, I also can't respond to late-night emails until the next day. And "But I left a message on your voice mail" isn't an excuse for anything, in your social life or mine  (except for class absences you anticipate. In that case, I appreciate the advance notice). 

Boston College values the academic integrity of its faculty and its students.   It should go without saying, simply as a matter of fairness to everyone who participates in this class, that I take such matters quite seriously. All students are required to familiarize themselves with the university guidelines on integrity at the start of the course. To see those guidelines, click here.  And if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask me for clarification, even if you are right in the middle of an assignment.  Violations of academic integrity are adjudicated according to the guidelines and the academic integrity committee of your school. If you are found in violation, penalties may include a failing grade as well as possible suspension, probation, or expulsion, depending on the seriousness and circumstances of the violation.

8. This course emphasizes improving your writing. To that end, I use a "correction guide" which will be handed out in class. It goes without saying that I will be willing to work closely with your writing throughout the semester: please take advantage of this.

If you have any questions or comments on this page, please send them to: