"The City in American Literature: New Orleans, Chicago, and New York" Syllabus

Over that past year, I have posted various syllabi to provide teachers and students with ideas for possible courses and to open up discussions about various topics and themes in literature. Today, I would like to share with you a course I taught a couple of years ago entitled “The City in American Literature: New Orleans, Chicago, and New York.” As I thought about the course more and more, I had students focus on the American Dream in the texts we read and how the city either bolstered or hindered that dream.

This was a sophomore level survey course, and I purposefully chose shorter texts for the class. I thought about adding novels like Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie and Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March; however, I chose against these because of the length. I did have students read John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, but I believe the humor and speed of the read made it easier to manage.

Along with thinking about the length of the texts, I also thought about the genres and gender of the authors. I made sure that each city had examples of novels and drama. I tried, in cases, to provide poetry and nonfiction as well. This gave students in a survey course a wide range of voices to experience throughout the course of the semester.

In the comments below, let me know what texts you would possibly add to this course? What other cities would you possibly add as well?


English 211: The City in American Literature: New Orleans, Chicago, and New York

Course Description:
This course will cover works from 1899 through the present, focusing on those that incorporate the urban landscape into the work. Cities provide a unique lens to examine American literature because the urban environment provides a landscape where people of different social, cultural, and economic groups converge and occupy the same space.  These spaces have been constructed from various historical influences, but they have also provided their inhabitants with new experiences and cultural expressions. As Cyrus Patell writes when discussing literature of New York, “Its greatest writers and artists have tended to be explorers, moving beyond their comfortable neighborhoods, embracing rather than shrinking from the experience of difference.” This course will provide students with the opportunity to “embrace” the many facets of the urban environment through literature. Students will examine literature that incorporates this urban space into the text, specifically looking at works that focus on New Orleans, Chicago, and New York, cities that played, and continue to play, unique roles in American history. 
Required Texts:
  • Charles W. Chesnutt Paul Marchand, F.M.C.
  • John Kennedy Toole A Confederacy of Dunces
  • Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Nelson Algren Chicago: City on the Make
  • Lorraine Hansberry A Raisin in the Sun
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby
  • Saul Bellow Seize the Day
  • Edward Albee Homelife & A Day at the zoo
Course Requirements and Explanation of Grading
            Online Assignments and Participation                                     10%
Quizzes                                                                                                10%
            Response Paper/Annotated Bibliography                                20%
Wiki                                                                                                      20%                            
            Research Paper (6-8 pgs.)                                                            20%
Final Exam                                                                                         20%
A=90-100; B=80-89; C=70-79; D=60-69; F=59 or below

Online Assignments and In-Class ParticipationThis class will use Moodle to post responses to readings and to informally discuss readings in small groups. Along with this, Moodle will also serve as a repository for terms that will be discussed in class. The online grade will come from the responses and discussions. Along with this portion of the grade, please be aware that daily attendance is not sufficient to guarantee you a passing participation grade. Any activities taking place during class time contribute to your in-class participation grade. This includes note-taking during lectures, actively participating during discussion, and otherwise participating in class activities.

Quizzes—Periodically we will have quizzes on the texts we read in class. These quizzes will occur at the beginning of class and they will consist of five questions. Quizzes cannot be made up if they are missed.

Response Paper/Annotated BibliographyDuring March, there will be a field trip scheduled. The field trip will involve a literary tour of the French Quarter in New Orleans. If you go to the tour, you will be required to write a three to four page response paper on the trip, describing what you learned and how that information relates to things we have discussed in the class. If you do not attend the field trip, you will be required to turn in an annotated bibliography. Annotated bibliographies are common in academic writing; in fact, entire books of nothing but annotated sources exist. For this bibliography, you must have five to six credible sources (journal articles, books, credible/academic Internet sources, or magazine articles) and annotations for each source. Each annotation must be between 150-300 words.  

Wiki—The wiki will be a collaborative project that the entire class can view. It will be constructed on Moodle, and there will be one for nine of the texts that we read in class. Each text will have a group of four students that will construct a wiki with a title page, notes, allusions or references, interactive map, questions about the text, a review of the text, and a creative page. The wikis will be graded when we cover the text in class.

Research PaperFor this assignment, each student will select a text that we have covered in class and construct an analytical paper on some aspect of the text. The paper needs to be 6 to 8 pages in length, and it must contain 3 secondary sources along with the primary text. The secondary sources should be scholarly articles, essays, or book chapters published since 1990 on the text chosen. The essay can be an extension of a topic that a short response paper explores, but it does not have to be. The paper should follow the “Critical Essay” paper from English 101/102. More information will follow.

Final ExamThe final exam will consist of definition/identification questions, short answer questions, and long essay questions. Only the works we discuss in class or that I otherwise specify will be covered on the exam. Please bring a large blue book to each exam period.

Attendance
Although I believe that as adults you should have control over your own education, attendance is vital to your success in this course. Much of your learning and work will take place in class, and you will be involved in discussing the readings in class. To fully comprehend and hopefully appreciate the texts, you should come to class fully prepared. This means you should have read the homework and completed any assignments for class. You are allowed four absences; after you miss the allowed number of classes, your grade will be penalized. If you miss five classes, you will receive nothing higher than a B; six absences will result in nothing higher than a C; seven will result in nothing higher that a D. If you miss more than seven classes, you will automatically receive an F. I will not accept any more work if this occurs.  

Tardiness is disruptive and disrespectful to your peers and to the teacher. After the first week of classes, two late arrivals (entering the class after 10:05) will result in one absence. It is your responsibility to keep track of your absences and late arrivals. 

Late and Make-up Work
1.      Essays and assignments are due on the Due Date.
2.      Late daily assignments will be failed if unexcused.
3.      Quizzes cannot be made up
4.      Exams will not be made-up unless the student provides an excuse from the Dean of Students.

Response Paper and Final Essay:
You have one week after the due date to turn your essay into me. However, you will not receive any comments or marks on the paper. Instead, you will just receive a grade after I read it. Essays will not be accepted more than week after the due date.
Schedule
Week
Texts
January 14 T
No Class
January 16 TR
Class introduction, review syllabus, historical background
January 21 T
Benjamin Franklin The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin & Max Weber The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
January 23 TR
Robert E. Park “The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment”
January 28 T
Kate Chopin The Awakening (I-XX)
January 30 TR
Kate Chopin The Awakening (XXI-XXXIX)
February 4 T
Charles W. Chesnutt Paul Marchand, F.M.C. (I-IX)
February 6 TR
Charles W. Chesnutt Paul Marchand, F.M.C. (X-XIII)
February 11 T
John Kennedy Toole A Confederacy of Dunces (1-5)
February  13TR
John Kennedy Toole A Confederacy of Dunces (6-10)
February 18 T
John Kennedy Toole A Confederacy of Dunces (11-14)
February 20 TR
Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire (Scenes 1-6)
February 25 T
Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named Desire (Scenes 7-11)
February 27 TR
Ring W. Lardner You Know Me Al: A Busher’s Letters (I-III)
March 4 T
Mardi Gras Holiday
March 6 TR
Ring W. Lardner You Know Me Al: A Busher’s Letters (IV-VI)
March 11 T
Carl Sandburg and Gwendolyn Brooks selected works
March 13 TR
Carl Sandburg and Gwendolyn Brooks selected works
March 18 T
Nelson Algren Chicago: City on the Make (1-4)
March 20 TR
Nelson Algren Chicago: City on the Make (5-Afterword)
March 25 T
Lorraine Hansberry A Raisin in the Sun (Act I-Act II scene i)
March 27 TR
Lorraine Hansberry A Raisin in the Sun (Act II scene ii-Act III)
April 1 T
F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby (1-5)
April 3 TR
F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby (6-9)
April 8 T
Saul Bellow Seize the Day (I-IV)
April 10 TR
Saul Bellow Seize the Day (V-VII) Response Paper/ Annotated bibliography due!
April 15 T
James Baldwin selections
April 17 TR
James Baldwin selections
April 22 T
Easter/Spring Break
April 24 TR
Easter/Spring Break
April 29 T
Edward Albee Homelife & A Day at the Zoo Research paper due!
May 1 TR
Edward Albee Homelife & A Day at the Zoo
May 5-9
Finals!
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One thought on “"The City in American Literature: New Orleans, Chicago, and New York" Syllabus

  1. Pingback: African American Literature and the American Dream Syllabus | Interminable Rambling

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