LITR 4328 American Renaissance

Final Exam assignment

Monday, 11 May 2015

(email exams due midnight 12 May)

"Great Star Flag" popular in antebellum USA

(This webpage is the assignment for our course's midterm, to be updated and refined up to 4 May.)

Official Exam Date:  11 May 2015, 7-9:50pm; No regular class meeting on 11 May (i.e. attendance not required unless you take the exam in-class.)

nstructor keeps office hours 4-10pm. (1-4 regular Monday office hours are canceled.)

Submission window for email exams: 5 May-12 May (Tuesday midnight) for email exams. (If your exam is late, communicate—professional courtesy.)

Format: Open-book, open-notebook: Use course materials (strongly encouraged) + outside sources (<optional).

2 options for taking exam

  • in-class: 7-9:50pm during exam period 11 May; write on laptop or in ink in bluebook or on notebook paper (fronts and backs of pages OK; single-spacing OK, or write on word program and print-out or email). Bring notes, texts, laptop, outlines, drafts to class. Write exam in 3 hours. In-class midterms are graded separately from emails.
  • email: 3+ hours anytime after class on Monday 4 May or by midnight 12 May; write in Word or Rich Text Format file; attach and paste into email message to (or reply to my email)

Three (3) essays for final exam

Essay A: One (1) mid-length essay from A1 or A2  describing your learning about the American Renaissance / American Romanticism. (5-6 paragraphs) (A1 & A2 have internal options, but write only one mid-length essay) (5-6 paragraphs)

Essay B: One (1) long essay on poetry & styles of Poe, Whitman, and Dickinson. (6-9 paragraphs)

Essay C: One (1) long essay from C1, C2, C3, C4, or C5 (6-9 paragraphs)

Special requirements:

All essays must have titles.

Somewhere in your exam you must refer to a previous final exam for this course. As variations, you may refer to one of your classmates' midterm exams (i.e., this semester) or to a research project from any semester. (Model Assignments)

Options: sections’ contents may overlap or repeat; acknowledge, cross-reference, economize.

A. Mid-length essay (5-6 paragraphs)

Choose ONE of the options under A1 & A2:
that is, choose EITHER A1 OR A2—not both!

For models of A1 & A2, see 2013 model answers, 2012 model answers & 2010 model answers

A1. Review & prioritize your learning in American Renaissance. (5-6 paragraphs). If someone comparably educated asked you what you learned from American Renaissance, how would you answer? If helpful, review your midterm long essay (learning, challenges, issues concerning American Renaissance / American Romantic literature) as a starting point you extend, but not required. Also refer to your research project if it adds to the learning you describe here.

Possible emphases (not by priority or sequential order): (This list of questions is not a check-list; you're not expected to answer every item, which are only potential prompts to help you start or develop material.)

  • What big or important idea about literature or our period of study mattered the most? Why? What can you do with your idea?

  • 2-3 uses for course and / or texts; questions you had about literature that were answered or came into focus.

  • Terms, sources, and course links that provided or reinforced materials you could work with.

  • Personal / professional applications; applications to career or general learning

  • How did your research complement or extend the course in terms of your learning?

  • Usefulness of literary-historical studies? What clicked and why? If you preferred less historical writers and texts, why?

  • What do your interests in the course reveal about your profile as a Literature major (or other major), and how do these interests connect to academic or professional interests beyond this course?

  • Highlights of semester. Connections to other courses. How does this course fit your maturation as a reader and writer?

Not looking for cheerleading but an intelligent measurement of what you learned and can imagine doing with it. If you have criticisms, make them work for you and me. You're judged not for flattery or disapproval but for your thinking and writing about our texts, subjects, terms, objectives, and classroom style as you relate it to your sense of learning and teaching in our world.

A1 option
OR (variation on "Review & prioritize your learning in American Renaissance")

Describe what you learned about Romanticism as a term or concept for a literary or cultural period or style, connecting it to other related terms or concepts in American Renaissance or other courses. If helpful, review and extend any relevant parts from your midterm, but not required. You may also refer to your research project insofar as it added to the learning you describe here.

(This list of questions is not a check-list; you're not expected to answer every question—only potential prompts to help you start or develop material.)

  • What did you come in knowing about Romanticism, and how has that understanding extended, changed, or redeveloped?

  • When you think of the term, what comes first? Where does this knowledge lead?

  • Consider explaining the concept of Romanticism as you would teach it to a particular group of students.

  • What is the range of possibilities for teaching or studying Romanticism? What does it include and exclude? What terms fall under it or escape it? (Also consider Romantic music and visual art.)

  • What attractions or repulsions to Romanticism?

  • How do you resolve the overlap or distinctions between Romanticism and the romance (narrative)?

  • What authors or texts exemplify Romanticism or points about it you're making? 

  • refer to website on Romanticism plus-minus other posts on Transcendentalism, Gothic, Sublime, Realism, & romance narrative.

A2. Mid-length essay on 1 or 2 terms or subjects: (choose one or connect two)

Overall assignment: Write 5-6 paragraphs defining or describing the term or subject and its significance; apply to at least two texts and refer to appropriate web links. Summarize an overall point about learning experience. Welcome to review and extend any parts of your midterm that may apply, but not required. You may also refer to your research project insofar as it applies to your subject here.

Texts to consider:

Models: scroll to A1 & A2 at 2013 final exam—index to Model Answers; 2012 final examIndex to Model Answers; 2010 final exam—Index to Model Answers

Essay B: One (1) long essay on poetry & styles of Poe, Whitman, and Dickinson.

Below are three lyric poems, one apiece by Poe, Whitman, and Dickinson.  Start by defining the genre of lyric poetry and describing its characteristics and appeals, then Identify which author wrote which poem  based on their poetic techniques and subject matter.  Referring to these poems (and briefly to other poems by same authors?) and to their style guides, describe, compare, and contrast Poe's, Whitman's and Dickinson's unique styles and subjects. What may be learned about lyric poetry and / or American literature by such comparative analyses?

Edgar Allan Poe, "The City in the Sea"

Walt Whitman, "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer"

Emily Dickinson, "[I heard a fly buzz, when I died"

How does each poem meet and vary the definition of a lyric poem?

How are these poets or poems representative of the American Renaissance or Romanticism?

Comment on what aspects of the poem are characteristic of Poe, Whitman and Dickinson, and also comment in what ways these poems may not be characteristic—that is, in what ways may they surprise expectations for these poets?

Identify characteristic (or non-characteristic) subject matter and stylistic devices on the parts of the two poets.  Details and definitions are welcome, plus locate examples in the poem.

Compare Poe, Whitman, and Dickinson in relation to each other—What do you gain, learn, or experience from one in contrast to the other?

Requirement: Refer at least twice to the Comparative Study of Poe, Whitman, Dickinson or to each poet's style guides (4 references total, but the better answers will probably do more):

Poems presented in class: see homepage / syllabus or Comparative Study of Poe, Whitman, Dickinson.

Model Assignments: 2015: See answers to Part B from 2015 Final Exam Models

2013: Stephanie Starkey, Informal to Formal and in-Between: Poe, Whitman, Dickinson

  Essay C: One (1) long essay from C1, C2, C3, C4, or C5 (6-9 paragraphs)

Answer One Question (or combine 2 into a single topic)

For all questions below you may review and extend any relevant parts of your midterm exam, but not required.

You may also refer to your research project insofar as it adds to your understanding of the subjects below.

C1. Varieties of the Gothic. Define the Gothic & describe its various characteristics and uses in 3-4 course readings, mostly since the midterm.

Briefly review Irving’s or Cooper’s use of the Gothic (pre-midterm)

Refer more extensively to Poe, Hawthorne, and Davis. (You may use Poe’s stories, poems, or both.)

You may also refer to at least one other text or author (The Gothic may appear only briefly or tangentially in ways we may not have discussed, but plenty of examples).

Conclusion: consider the significance of the Gothic. Why do authors return to it? Obviously it’s a hook for readers, but what does it achieve besides interest or entertainment? How does it persist in contemporary popular culture and literature?

Essential websites: gothic; Possible website (in development):gothic variations

Models: for 2012 scroll to B1 at 2012 final examIndex to Sample Answers; Models from 2010; Models from 2008; Models from 2004

C2. Literature & Morality. A constantly changing capitalist culture like America incessantly raises questions about moral understanding and behavior. Like Rip Van Winkle, we wake every day to a world whose fashions, values, and rules have changed (with no going back to an earlier, simpler time besides nostalgia or self-isolation).

          Most Americans react to our incessantly-changing ("hypermodern") society in two extreme ways:

reactionary fundamentalism (a.k.a. "moralism" or "moralizing")—“A woman’s place is in the home,” “It’s their own fault,” “Just say no” (upside: definite, absolute, and certain; downside: simplistic, divisive, polarizing, vain & self-righteous) 


progressive relativism: "Live and let live," "You are not the judge of me," "As long as you feel all right about it . . . ." (upside: tolerance, open-mindedness; downside: indifference, casualness, or slackness in challenging situations)

          Rather than choosing between intense narrow-mindedness or careless open-mindedness, classic writers like Hawthorne, Whitman, Margaret Fuller, Susan B. Warner (Wide, Wide World), Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry David Thoreau, and Emily Dickinson, or great leaders like Abraham Lincoln, and minority writers like Harriet Jacobs or Frederick Douglass admit that morality is important but also complicated.

          Referring to writings by at least two of these writers (and others in or beyond course), describe how moral problems are depicted vividly and significantly but without a simple, reductive moral judgment of who is right or wrong, or innocent or guilty. Compare / contrast different writers' approaches.

  • Give a picture of the moral situation in which characters or people find themselves.

  • What does a reader learn and what pleasure or benefit may s/he take from such writings?

  • What responsibilities, rewards, and risks of studying complex moral issues as here?

  • As a possible synonym for  "moralism," distinguish between simple-and-easy sentimentality and

    Add sentiment, sentimentality

  • In education keyed to statistical bubble-testing, may such studies by defended as critical thinking?

Models: from 2013, see Mickey Thames, Thoreau and Lincoln—A Time to Sit, and A Time to Fight; for earlier models scroll to B2 at 2012 final examIndex to Sample Answers; Models from 2010; Models of Essay 2 from 2008; Models of Essay 2 from 2006; Models of Essay 2 from 2004

C3. Literature and History. “American Renaissance” surveys literature in a dynamic & formative period of American history. How have our readings developed* your ideas of history, or how has history developed your idea of literature? How may Literature & History be productively combined to encourage student learning? [*“Developed” = extended, confirmed, changed, challenged, etc.]

Two ways to organize:

  • Start with interesting, applicable, and resonant historical fact(s) or idea(s) you learned, then develop through text analysis or reaction


  • Start with texts that brought history suddenly and dramatically to life while explaining your reactions.

Possible themes: How do literary texts support, contradict, or potentially enrich the study of history? Vice versa, how does knowledge of history enrich the study of literary texts from the past? 

As usual, don’t treat your texts separately but compare, contrast, connect.

Text requirements: Three course-texts connected by history or learning experience.

From Obj. 3 methods / pedagogy: Language makes history; Historicism: interpreting past as present, & vice versa; History doesn’t have to be only about wars--consider progress of human rights, developments in religion.

Possible websites: civil disobedience tradition(s); The 2nd Great Awakening, Mexican-American War

Possible authors / texts: Alcott; Lincoln; Whitman; Sojourner Truth; Frederick Douglass; Harriet Jacobs; Margaret Fuller; Thoreau; Stanton; Stowe; Whitefield; Davis, Life in the Iron Mills

Models: for 2012 scroll to B3 at 2012 final examIndex to Sample Answers; Models from 2010

C4. Classic, Popular, & Representative Literature. Write an essay comparing classic, popular, and representative authors and literature in terms of their differing (or overlapping) styles, values, audiences, and appeals (Objective 1).

Define and give examples of classical, popular, and representative literature from our course and beyond.  (Suggestions from our course below. Don’t just rename but describe them in ways that fit your definitions.)

Some authors may fit more than one category--no problem if you explain.

What different pleasures, benefits, and challenges does each category offer a reader in our time?  How were they received in their own time and by periods following their publication?

For what different purposes are these types of literature written?

What may one learn from reading across these different categories of literature?

What different readers might be attracted to the different categories?

Which balance of categories, is most appropriate for a college literature class like ours?  What about other literature classrooms?

As usual in an essay like this, do a lot of comparing and contrasting from start to finish, for the sake of sparking ideas and weaving organization.

Summarize your learning experience with possible applications to research or teaching.

websites: classic, popular, and representative authors and literature; Alternative American Renaissance

Examples from our course readings: (not exhaustive—welcome to bring in others)

“Classic” authors and texts: Dickinson; Hawthorne; Emerson; Cooper; Irving; Thoreau

“Popular” authors and texts: Irving, Poe, Cooper, Stowe; you may also refer to popular authors beyond this course.

“Representative” texts and authors: William Apess; Cherokee Memorials; Frederick Douglass; Sojourner Truth; Harriet Jacobs; Margaret Fuller; Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

*Also consider authors who combine or cross categories: Poe, Douglass, Stowe, Irving, Fuller, Cooper.

Models from 2012: scroll to B4 at 2012 final examIndex to Sample Answers; Models from 2010; Models of Essay 4 from 2008; Models of Essay 4 from 2006; Models of Essay 4 from 2004

C5. Romanticism & Realism. Compare and contrast the styles of Romanticism and Realism in 2 or 3 texts from our course. These texts may entirely represent Romanticism (e.g., The Last of the Mohicans, Ligeia) or Realism (Life in the Iron Mills, "The Wound-Dresser"), or you may examine both Romanticism and Realism in a single text (e.g., The Last of the Mohicans, Life in the Iron Mills, "The Wound-Dresser") or some combination of these approaches.

Essential term websites: Romanticism; Realism

Undergrad models from American Renaissance 2013:

Briana Perry, Elevated Romanticism, Blunt Realism


Mickey Thames, Romantic Sentiments in a Realistic World


Kayla Davis, The Realities of Romanticism

If you want more models, below are essays on a comparable topic from the graduate seminar in American Romanticism:

Sarah McCall DeLaRosa, Surviving traditions of American Romanticism

Kyle Rahe, To Be Romantic in the Face of Reality: Changes in American Romanticism:

Helena Suess, The Ideal v. the Real: Post-Romantic American Literature