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Literature 3A: American Literature, Beginnings to 1865


Admission requirements

Students in English: Literature 1A and Literature 2, or equivalent. Minor students: none.


This seminar surveys the development of a distinctly American literary culture and history from the first encounters between Native Americans and Europeans to the mid-nineteenth century. In exploring this expanding terrain, we will encounter new genres and media, consider the impact of race and gender on ideas of freedom and democracy, and assess the formation of an American literary canon. Our goal is a critical familiarity with texts that have claimed a place in American literary history and the social movements that produced them. We will consider: what constitutes "American literature" before 1789? What factors determined the canonization of primarily English language texts from a multi-lingual, multi-colonial, and native population? How have pre-revolutionary and antebellum America been represented in our own time?

Course objectives

  • To evaluate works of U.S. American literature during the colonial and early national periods from the standpoint of genre, historical context, and literary conventions.

  • To identify and understand persistent American mythologies rooted in this period.

  • To analyze a wide-range of challenging historical texts using established critical approaches by style, genre, and rhetorical aim.

  • To develop MLA-based and archival research skills in the composition of a term essay, and to improve written communication through in-class writing assignments.

  • To communicate ideas in discussion, oral and written presentations, and collaborative team-work.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Midterm Exam: Written Examination with closed questions and essay questions

  • Paper: Essay and analysis of 1500 words

  • Oral Presentation

  • Participation


  • Midterm Exam: Written Examination with closed questions and essay questions: 30%

  • Paper: Essay and analysis of 1500 words: 30%

  • Oral Presentation: 30%

  • Participation: 10%


If the final mark is insufficient (

Reading list

Required: Norton Anthology of American Literature (NAAL), vol. A & B

Students will be required to write the paper on one of the following texts:

  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

  • “Song of Myself” Walt Whitman

  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs

(Note: do not purchase all four books; students will be choosing one of these four texts)


Enrolment through My Studymap (Login | Universiteit Leiden) is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

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  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


This is the first of three survey courses in American literature (lit 3a, 4a, and 5a), which can also be taken individually and/or in combination with the introduction to American Studies “From the Pilgrims to the Present.” This course is a required course for students taking the minor in American Studies.
This course may be adjusted, depending on the measures taken regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.