American Romanticism Syllabus

Research Project Assignment

Examples on webpage: Students should review examples of previous student research proposals and projects on the Model Assignments on course webpage.

Students may choose from two options for their research projects.

·        Option 1: 12-15 page traditional analytic / research essay relevant to course.

·        Option 2: 15-20 page journal of research and reflections concerning a variety of materials relevant to the course.

Weight: approximately 40% of final grade

Due dates:

·        proposal due via email within 72 hours of 16 October

·        project due via email due within 72 hours of 20 November


Research proposal: Due via email within 72 hours of 16 October.

Write at least two paragraphs containing the following information:

·        Indicate which option—Option 1 (essay) or Option 2 (journal)—your research project will take. (If you’re stuck between the options, or trying to choose between different subjects, explain and explore the situation—I’ll reply as helpfully as I can.)

·        If Option 1, list the primary text(s) you intend to work with. Explain the source of your interest, why the topic is significant, and what you hope to find out through your research. Describe any reading or research you have already done and how useful it has been.

·        If Option 2, mention your possible choices of topics and areas of research for categories listed in Option 2 (journal) requirements.

·        Explain the source of your interest, why the topic matters, and what you want to learn.

·        Mention the types of research you intend, e. g., Background (encyclopedias, handbooks, critical digests, etc.), Secondary (advanced scholarly articles or books exploring a particular question, or reviews of scholarly books), etc.

·        For either option, conclude by asking the instructor at least one question about your topic, possible sources for research, or the writing of your research project.

·        Email or otherwise transmit an electronic version of your proposal to me at

·        Research report proposals will be posted on the course webpage.

·        If you want to confer about your possible topic before submitting a proposal, welcome to confer in person, by phone, or email.


Response to Paper Proposal

·        The instructor will email you a reaction okaying the proposal and / or making any necessary suggestions.

·        You are welcome to continue going back and forth with the instructor on email until you are satisfied with your direction.

·        Student does not receive a letter grade for the proposal, only a “yes” or instructions for receiving a yes. Students will not lose credit for problems in reaching a topic as long as they are working to resolve these problems.

·        The only way you can start getting into trouble over the proposal is if you simply don’t offer very much to work with, especially after prompts from instructor. An example of a really bad proposal is one sentence starting with “I’m thinking about” and ending with “doing something about Poe,” then asking, “What do you think?” In these cases, a bad grade won’t be recorded, but the deep hole the student has dug will be remembered. Notes regarding the paper proposal may appear on the Final Grade Report.


Research Project (due within 72 hours of 20 November):


Description of Research Options:

Option 1 (analytic / research essay) requirements

·        This option is a more or less standard "Graduate Literature Paper" in which the student analyzes a literary text or texts relevant to American Romanticism.

·        The topic is open to any method of literary analysis, but it must have some relevance to the course. That is, a member of our class reading your essay would be able to recognize the relevance of its text(s) and major themes.

·        Possible topics: tracing in one text, or comparing and contrasting in more than one text the development of a theme, image, symbol, usage of language, character type, plot pattern, genre, aesthetic style, problem, or conflict.

·        In terms of primary texts, you may choose a text from beyond this course, but if you use more than one primary text, one should probably be from the course readings.

·        In terms of research, you must incorporate references to at least three secondary and background sources--that is, your research sources must include both secondary and background types of research. (Distinction explained below.)

·        Follow MLA style for documentation and mechanics.

·        Length: 12-15 pages + Works Cited

·        Research Requirements: One or two primary sources; at least 3 secondary and background sources (distinction explained below). At least one source should be "print"--i. e., not from the internet.


Option 2 (journal) requirements

Purpose: Students will extend their range of knowledge or familiarity with American Romanticism, its authors, and / or its constituent styles or genres. In brief, the journal might answer the question, "What do I want to know about this field of study, and in what types of sources or references do I find this knowledge most accessible?" For your reader, the journal will demonstrate “What I have learned, and how I learned it.”

Length: Approximately 15-20 pages.

Organizational requirement: Your journal should feature divisions with headings to serve as mileposts for your journey of learning. See most journal models for examples.

Quality & Coherence of journal submissions:

If you choose the journal option, you are not choosing an option that involves less work than the traditional research paper option. You are expected to do as much work and your writing will be judged by similar standards. A journal provides more varied opportunities for learning, but don’t regarding the journal as a “data dump” waiting for reclamation. Organize your diverse findings into larger themes.

The final grade will be determined largely by your journal’s “whole reading experience” for the instructor, who is reviewing your journal not as a reference work but from beginning to end. Therefore you need to emphasize transitions or continuity between parts. Develop larger insights and share them with your reader. The introduction and conclusion provide the primary opportunities for generalizing on what you’re learning overall, but throughout you should be making connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

I may not be able to emphasize enough the importance of writing your journal as a readable, focused, organized, coherent text. Journal-writing students who have been disappointed with their grades have often reacted, “I didn’t know you would grade so strongly on connections between parts.” To gain more sense of expectations regarding the journal assignment, review those posted online. Most are successful samples. You can observe efforts by their authors to organize the diverse parts into a cogent whole.

What’s the difference between the essay (option 1) and journal (option 2)?

·        An essay emphasizes and develops your insights and opinions about a text or set of texts, or it applies a “reading or interpretive methodology” to a text or texts.

·        A journal emphasizes knowledge you have gathered. Often, instead of being focused on a text, this knowledge concerns a movement or figure or genre in literary history. The essay happens “in” the texts; the journal stands somewhat outside.

·        Both the essay and the journal are read as unified explorations of a subject. The journal should have a definite sense of forward motion or learning as an essay does, but it must feature divisions and headings to separate the parts or stages of the journey of learning.


Possible Topics for a journal:

Elements from or relevant to course objectives should be a first consideration. Here are some possible topics.

Literary or stylistic subjects: romance, gothic, sublime, Romantic lyric poetry, Romantic nature

Historical or cultural subjects: When was Romanticism? Abolition, Romantic feminism, slave narratives, the Harlem Renaissance

Author studies: If you go this route, try to have a particular focus or sub-topic of interest rather than an “all-about” approach.

Review samples under “Model Assignments” on course webpage.






Research Journal--suggested contents: (page suggestions are for double-spaced print)

(Aside from the introduction and conclusion, all the numbers and items below are variable according to your interests and findings.)

·        Introduction (required): rationale: what you wanted to learn and how; preview contents, general themes, choices (1-1 & 1/2 pages)

Optional elements:

·        Overview of subject digested from several sources. (2-5 pages)

·        Review of two student papers from previous course on webpage. (2-3 paragraphs each)

·        1-3 reviews of scholarly books or articles on your subject (2-3 paragraphs each)

·        Review of 2-3 websites (1-2 paragraphs on each site?)

·        For such reviews, critique their organization and contents. What did you learn? What questions did they raise?

·        Many other possibilities!

·        Conclusion (required): In terms either of variety, priority, or unity, what have you learned from the gathering of your journal? Where might this knowledge take your studies or your teaching? What new issues have been introduced that you might like to study next? (2-3 pages)


Explanation of Research Terms


Primary texts. In research writing for literature, primary texts are usually works of fiction, poetry, or drama, though other genres may be similarly analyzed.


Background sources refer to handbooks, encyclopedias, and companions to literature that provide basic generic, biographical, or historical information.  For purposes of Literature, these books are generally shelved in the PR and PS sections of the Reference section of the library.


Secondary sources refer to critical articles about particular authors or texts.  (When you write your analytic / research paper, you are creating a secondary source.)  These may take the form of articles or books.  Articles may be found in journals or in bound collections of essays.  Secondary books may be found on the regular shelves of the library.  To find secondary sources, perform a database search on the MLA directory in the Reference section of the library--the reference librarians will help you.


Documentation style: MLA style (parenthetical documentation + Works Cited page, as described in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 4th or 5th edition.


Other mechanical issues: A cover sheet is not necessary.

Email copy of paper to instructor at You are welcome to give me a hard copy on or around the due date, but before the semester is over you are required to provide an electronic copy.


Research Project due 14-19 April

Length: 12-20 pages; Weight: 35-40% of final grade.


Research Essay option (due by email 14-19 April):

            The paper's assigned length is the equivalent 12 to 20 pages, double-spaced—though it need not be double-spaced when you submit it.  Follow MLA documentation style. You are required to refer to at least three critical, theoretical, or historical (i. e., secondary) sources.  Your paper should center on one or two "primary texts"; usually the primary texts are drawn from the course’s readings, but you may propose an outside text. If you use more than one primary text, you do not have to treat them in perfect balance—that is, you might develop your ideas more from one than from another, using the second text mostly for contrast or relief. The topic is your choice but must have a direct relevance to the course (see below). Texts may be chosen from within or beyond the course readings, but if all the texts are from outside the course, their relevance should be clear.


Essay Topics: In choosing and developing a topic, students generally start either with a text or with an idea.

If you find yourself interested in a text but aren't sure how to develop a topic from it, try isolating a problem or issue for minorities or for American culture or literature that the text explores. This problem or issue may be cultural or literary.

  • How is the problem or issue expressed, and in what ways do the text and/or its characters attempt to resolve it, and with what success?

  • What insight into American culture and literature does the text develop?

  • For secondary sources, try to find criticism of the particular texts involved so that you can build on ideas previously established.

            If you are starting with an idea, you may want to find a theoretical text that deals with the idea for the sake of development. Then find texts in or beyond the course that develop the idea.

            As another subject option, review the course objectives. You are not expected to duplicate ideas developed in lecture and discussion as you would for an exam, but you may use them as background or as launching points.

            In some cases students may continue to develop the topics they began in the midterm. The central ideas are expected to demonstrate further development and research.

            For examples of previous research topics, review the Model Assignments on the course webpage.