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Literature 3A: The American Renaissance, American Literature, 1620-1865


Admission requirements

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


We shall begin the course by tracing American literature to its seventeenth-century Puritan beginnings, focusing on the spiritual autobiography, a genre that greatly influenced some of the later works we will read, including Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. The main focus of the course will be on the American Renaissance (1836-1861), however. In this era of Romantic revolution, the philosopher-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson became an important agent of cultural change and a major influence on many of his contemporaries, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and even the more critical Herman Melville. With the publication of The Scarlet Letter (1850), Moby-Dick (1851), and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), the literature of the new American republic came to rank with the classics of world literature for the first time, while Whitman and Emily Dickinson produced poems that, advanced beyond their own age, signaled the advent of modern poetry. The period also marked the beginning of an African American literary tradition, as Frederick Douglass and other fugitive slaves published autobiographical narratives that had a great impact on black writers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We shall study the above-mentioned works and authors not only in their literary-historical context, but also in the context of the political and social developments and debates about slavery, gender, and the role of the individual, all of which are still relevant today.

Course objectives

This course

  • provides a survey of early American literature from 1620 to 1865, focusing on the period between 1836-1860

  • aims to give insight into the place of the literary works we’ll discuss in their historical context, in intellectual and literary movements (Puritanism, Enlightenment, Romanticism) and in political and social debates about slavery, gender and individualism.
    It also helps students

  • develop critical and analytical skills, e.g. recognition of and insight into genre, narrative strategies, and rhetorical devices

  • practise basic research skills (find, use, and document secondary sources according to MLA style), and

  • develop and practise oral and written communication skills in English (discussion, essay, exams)


The timetable is available on the BA English website

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load = 140 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 80

  • Assignment(s):

  • Tutorials: 26

  • Preparation exam: 12

  • Exam(s): 4

  • Essay (1200 words): 18



Midterm exam with essay questions
Written examination with closed questions and essay questions
Essay (1250 words)


Midterm exam with essay questions (33,3%)
Written examination with closed questions and essay questions (33,3%)
Essay (1250 words) (33,3%)

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


If the final mark is insufficient, students will have to resit the part(s) that was (were) insufficient: the essay and/or one combined resit exam covering the entire course. The sufficient parts cannot be retaken.


Attendance is compulsory. Missing more than three tutorials means that students will be excluded from the tutorials. Unauthorized absence also applies to being unprepared, not participating and/or not bringing the relevant course materials to class.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for: . course information . specific information about (components of) the course, such as weekly discussion questions, links to recommended secondary literature and websites, essay topics, sample exam questions.

Reading list

Norton Anthology of American Literature (NAAL), vol. A(ISBN 978-0-393-93571-4) & B(ISNB 978-0-393-26447-0) 9th ed.(2017) Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick, Norton Critical Edition, 3rd ed (2018).
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Penguin).

Note: Purchase of these books is required and the assigned texts have to be brought to class. Make sure you have the edition listed above!


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

NB: First year students will be enrolled by the coordinator of studies.

Students other than from the BA English language and culture cannot take this course.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Contractonderwijs


Please contact Student administration van Eyckhof for questions.

The coordinator of studies is Else van Dijk


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 Bradford to Obama.” This course is a required course for students taking the minor in American Studies.

Note: you will have to read two lengthy novels in addition to shorter texts. If you don't like to read, you should take another course.