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American Colonial Literature

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 1 month ago

American Colonial Literature


When I teach Colonial American Literature, which can admittedly be more dry and, in the words of students, "boring" than other types of American literature, I tend to focus on the historical aspects. I also bring in either The Scarlet Letter or The Crucible, despite the fact that the former is Romantic and the latter is Modern, because each is set during the Colonial period and lend interest to the works of Colonial authors.


I personally think The Scarlet Letter is difficult reading, so I assign that to Honors/gifted students. I think it is critical to create a study guide (PDF) for The Scarlet Letter. Fortunately, I found a very good one at Jana Edwards' site, which I adapted for my own classes. I generally spend class time discussing the novel with students, using the study guide questions to guide our discussion. I also found an excellent graphic organizer designed to help students keep track of characters in The Scarlet Letter at Ms. Edwards' site. Generally, I conclude The Scarlet Letter with an essay (PDF).


The Crucible is very accessible, and its subject matter can be fascinating. By far, the most successful activity I have done with The Crucible has been an online scavenger hunt: Witch Hunt: A Web Scavenger Hunt for The Crucible. The students really enjoyed it. There are several interactive activites. The assignment is designed to show the intended parallels between the Salem Witch Trials and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950's. Students also learn about other "witch hunts" in history, including the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps in WWII, and current violence against Arab-Americans in the wake of 9/11. Another activity which can be successful is an analysis of Act Two, Scene Two of The Crucible (PDF), which was written after the play had already been produced. Some directors choose to include the scene, while others do not. Students can decide what, if anything, this additional scene adds to or detracts from a production of The Crucible. Jana Edwards also came up with a great activity involving a guided reading of Margaret Atwood's poem "Half-Hanged Mary" (PDF), which enables students to see what it might have felt like in the place of the accused. In addition, the poem is based on a true historical event. I also created a study guide (PDF) and essay assignment (PDF) for The Crucible.


Aside from teaching these works, I often teach a few poems by Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor. Bradstreet's poems were published in English by her brother-in-law without her knowledge or consent. Taylor's poem "Huswifery" is excellent for teaching the conceit (extended metaphor). He is the only American poet in the Metaphysical School. I also teach parts of William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation and Jonathan Edwards' sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."


All of these handouts (along with many others) are gathered at my handouts page.

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