LITR 5439 Literary & Historical Utopias

Midterm Assignment 2015

This webpage constitutes this summer's midterm assignment, which will be updated until Monday, 29 June, when paper copies will be distributed.

Relative weight: app. 30-40% of final grade    Format: email or in-class

Date & time: Attendance not required or expected for 30 June; instructor holds office hours 3-6pm.

Students may write exam in class during Tuesday, 30 June class meeting (3-6pm).

Email exams may be written any time after class meeting on 29 June and are due to by noon Wednesday, 1 July.

Two parts to midterm:

part 1: Web highlights from previous midterms, research posts, and / or final exams (5-8 paragraphs?)

part 2: Essay in 1-3 parts on learning and interests re Literary and Historical Utopias (9-12 paragraphs?). Essay(s) must cover all 3 sets of topics (see below).

Content details below.

Throughout this exam, references to “utopia(s)” or “utopian literature” may be understood to include dystopias, ecotopias, & actual communities as convenient.

Undergraduate requirements: Part 1: 5 paragraphs; Part 2: 8-10 paragraphs. No required references to Research Posts in Part 2. 

Overall Midterm Requirements:

All essays including Web Highlights must have titles.

Refer frequently to course objectives, terms, texts, presentations, and handouts. You don't have to cite numbers and bullets as much as indicate awareness of course's common materials, themes, texts, and terms. 

Required textual references: In part 2, make extensive reference to our four major texts: Utopia, Herland, Anthem, and Ecotopia. (If you write more than one essay for part 2, you don’t automatically have to refer to all 4 in each section.) You're also welcome to refer to materials from web reviews and outside readings, but keep returning focus to central texts.

Part 2 should make references to 1-2 historical utopias or utopian movements or related literary events or movements.  

Possible references—not required but potentially helpful:

outside readings and other courses, texts, or discussions anywhere.

student-discussion insights relevant to your themes.

your first research post (or plans for 2nd post).

Part 1: Web highlights from previous midterms, research posts, and / or final exams) (5-8 paragraphs?)

Assignment: Review at least 3 submissions on the course webpage’s “Model Assignments” page and write 5-8 paragraphs (total) on what you found and learned.

Purpose: To enhance peer-instruction and potential for later seminars to build on earlier seminars' learning.

Organization: variable; many students default to reviewing one item at a time discretely from each other, but the best submissions tend to approach the entire assignment as a coherent whole, connecting learning and insights from each submission to a summary of what has been learned overall.

More specifically . . .

First paragraph: introduce assignment, preview purposes, selections, and learning experience.

Body paragraphs: review submissions in terms of unifying themes (+-variations)

Concluding paragraph: summarize highlights and learning experience.

Requirements & guidelines:

At least one Model Assignment must be a midterm from the Utopia seminar's previous semesters. You may restrict your highlights to midterms, but research posts and final exams may also be included.

“Review”: quickly describe what interested or impressed you, where, why, and what you learned or admired. You may criticize what you found, but not required.

To identify the passages to which you’re responding, mention student-writer's name and year. Copy and paste brief selections into your web review, or simply refer to contents with paraphrases, summaries, and brief quotations. (You'll see both options in models.) Either way, highlight and discuss the language used in the passages as part of your review. Critique what you’re reviewing in terms of what you learn or where the model succeeds or fails.

Possible emphasis: What did you learn from reviewing model assignments that you didn't learn from in-class discussion or instruction? Or, how did a past student see materials differently, more productively, or in more depth?

Web highlights from LITR 5439 Utopias summer 2013 midterms

Web highlights from LITR 5431 American Literature: Romanticism 2013; Web highlights from LITR 5431 American Literature: Romanticism 2010 ; Web highlights from LITR 5731 American Immigrant Literature; Web highlights models from LITR 5731 Minority Literature

“Utopia(s)” or “utopian literature” in descriptions below may include dystopias, ecotopias, & actual communities as convenient.

Part 2: Essay in 1-3 parts on learning and interests re Literary and Historical Utopias (9-12 paragraphs). Essay(s) must cover all 3 sets of topics listed below.

Assignment: To demonstrate learning and apply knowledge of Literary and Historical Utopias.

Length: app. 10-14 paragraphs, depending on unit lengths or paragraph lengths. Of course you may write more. If you draft much less, try more examples and analysis.

Prep time and writing time: Spend at least 3-4 hours drafting the exam you will submit, and reserve some time for editing. If you want to spend more time writing and revising, OK as schedule permits, but additional length or effort doesn't automatically make higher grades. Manage time relative to our entire session's work.

Midterm Content / Assignment: Write one long essay or 2-3 briefer ones developing the following topics.

These elements can appear in any order or throughout your essay(s).

1. Appeals and detractions of utopias for literary study (Objectives 3 & 4)

2. Summary-analysis of utopian genre & conventions (Objectives 1 & 2)

3. Highlight special interests in course (any course objective[s]; potentially involving 1st / 2nd research post[s])

Detailed prompts (for 3 content items above):

Not a checklist—consider all possibilities, but develop your best ideas in a unified essay. All students vary emphases—I read what you write.

1. Appeals & detractions of utopias for literary study (Objectives 3 & 4)

  • What did you enter knowing of our subject? What have you learned? How do you reconcile popular attitudes toward utopian literature, thought, and experimentation, which are reflexively dismissed ("They don't work") with the phenomenon's persistent recurrence in Western Civilization and education? Welcome to refer to previously-read texts or historical models for examples.

·        Develop a working or provisional definition of utopia (literary and historical)

o   explore utopia's literary and historical meanings, backgrounds, challenges, and purposes

o   acknowledge and account for difficulties of definition

o   identity & deal with some attractions and detractions for this field of study

2. summary-analysis of utopian genre & conventions (Objectives 1 & 2)

3. Highlight special interests in course (potentially involving 1st &/or 2nd research post + possible extension in final exam essay)

· What personal attraction or apprehension toward subject of utopia? How has this reaction developed?

· What have you been most interested in learning from or about this subject? Or, what aspect(s) seems most valuable? Consider in relation to your 1st and/or 2nd research post?

·  Relate your interests to a course objective (or part of one, or some combination of 2 or more, which may overlap w/ 2 & 3 above).

o   Analyze your interest in the objective(s) and review the seminar's discussion. (If this objective hasn't yet received much coverage, welcome to play it off what we have discussed)

o   Option (here and on final exam): revise an objective or develop a new one. Relate your new objective to the existing objectives.

o   Explain and defend your interests and relate them back to the seminar's attractions, distractions, etc.

o   The final exam offers an option for continuing this part of your essay.

email copy of your answers to instructor at

·        Mistake students are most likely to make: sending to “white” rather than “whiteC”; “white” goes to another teacher.

·        Attach appropriate word processing file(s) to email

·        Copy contents of your word processing file, paste them into email message to

·        All submissions are posted to the Model Assignments.

Spacing: No need to double-space, but OK if you do. I convert all electronic copies to single-space for reading onscreen.

Evaluation standards: As in most Literature courses, quality of reading and writing is the key to judging excellent work from competent work—not just reproducing data but organizing a unified, compelling essay.

"Unified": Thematic continuity and transitions are essential. Connect parts to form larger ideas. Pause between paragraphs to review what you've written or to preview what comes next. Summarize. Explain. Review and preview.

"Compelling": Exams require comprehension and expression of instructional contents. Excellence appears when students use fresh examples, insights, and expression to extend or vary what they learn. A good sign is learning as you write.

Style: At the graduate level, competence with surface issues like spelling, punctuation, and grammar is taken for granted. An occasional careless error won't kill your grade, given time pressures, but repeated or chronic errors will be remarked and factored.

Paragraph and essay organization: Expect suggestions. (Paragraph organization + transitions)

Audience: Write so someone in our seminar could recognize your terms, process your explanations, and enjoy your personal contributions and style. Future students may read your essays in our "Model Assignments." Keep instructor and assignment in sight—connect with shared terms and texts, and "write up" in terms of organization and ambition of thought.

In-class and email exams are read separately, with different conditions factored.

Return of midterms

Receipt of your email midterm will be acknowledged by reply email, usually within a few hours.

Check email for your midterm note and grade from instructor over weekend of 4-5 July.

Instructor's response often focuses on writing and organization as tranferable skills. For content, instructor often encourages students to "use course terms and objectives more frequently and systematically." The impression you don't want to give is that "you could have written this exam without taking the course!"