Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Course Number:
ENG 253
Course Title:
American Literature to 1865
Credit Hours:
Lecture Hours:
Lecture/Lab Hours:
Lab Hours:
Special Fee:

Course Description

Introduces the literature of the land which is now the United States from before European contact through the mid-nineteenth century. Revolves around written manifestations of the various interests, preoccupations, and experiences of the peoples creating and recreating American culture. Considers various literary forms, canonized (such as novel, narrative poem), popular (such as the serialized tale, verse) and unpublished (the jeremiad, Native American oratory, the slave narrative, diary). Prerequisites: WR 115 and RD 115 or equivalent placement test scores. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes for the course

Upon successful students should be able to:

1. Identify and discuss strengths, limitations, and cultural assumptions of various literary forms practiced in America through the mid-nineteenth century.
2. Identify and discuss the roles which gender, race, age, class, ethnicity, wealth, poverty, and geography have played in creating American literature.
3. Identify and discuss the issues, conflicts, preoccupations, and themes of the various literatures of America.
4. Use literary texts to examine the historical, cultural, and rhetorical contexts in which they were written
5. Identify and discuss aesthetic aspects of American literature, canonized (such as plot, characterization, and stanza forms), popular (parable structure, call and response, floral and architectural coding systems), and unpublished (mnemonics or oral literature, characteristics of military and women€™s journals and letters).
6. Write clear, focused, coherent essays about literature for an academic audience, using standard English conventions of grammar and style.

Course Activities and Design

Students read, discuss, and write about assigned readings and are encouraged to experience literary materials beyond detached analysis. Class meeting time might consist of teacher and/or student lecture, group discussion, and various other activities, such as small group work, in-class writings, slide shows, performances, viewing of films and videos, and/or listening to audio recordings. Course designs provide a comparative view of popular and unpublished as well as canonized literatures of America. Some instructors prefer to arrange the course more thematically than chronologically. Other instructors use web pages which offer links to a variety of American literature sources, thereby requiring the students to work outside the class. Whichever approach is chosen, the instructor pays particular attention to including writers of diverse backgrounds (e.g., race, class, gender, etc.) and to placing each work in historical, cultural, rhetorical and political contexts.

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Each instructor determines a method for course grading based upon the Instructional Goals and Objectives below. Most instructors use some combination of papers, tests, quizzes, journals, participation, and attendance. The instructor's policy for course grading and attendance will appear on the course syllabus.

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)


Most instructors use a multi-volume anthology of American literature, supplemented by additional books each term. The following items are intended as descriptions of instructors' choices of texts in the past as an aid to choosing texts in the future. This is not intended as a prescribed or recommended list of texts.


  • Baym, Nina, et al. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: Norton.
  • Elliott, Emory, et al. American Literature: A Prentice Hall Anthology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice.
  • Lauter, Paul, et al. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington, Mass.: Heath.
  • McQuade, Donald, et al. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper.

Some instructors may substitute anthology use with novels and other texts, such as:

  • Giles Gunn, ed. Early American Writing (Penguin)
  • Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin€™s Autobiography (Norton)
  • Susanna Rowson, Charlotte Temple (Oxford)
  • Bernard DeVoto, ed. The Journals of Lewis and Clark (Mariner-Houghton)
  • Peter Nabokov, ed. Native American Testimony (Penguin)
  • Henry Thoreau, Walden and Resistance to Civil Government, ed. William Rossi (Norton)
  • Susan Warner, The Wide, Wide World (Feminist)
  • John Hollander, ed. American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century (Library of America)
  • Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Norton)
  • James Fenimore Cooper, The Deerslayer (Signet)
  • Emily Dickinson, Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson€™s Poems (Little, Brown)

Instructors new to the course should contact the Literature SAC chair, faculty department chair, or administrative support person