ENG 620B American Gothic
A seminar designed to expose you to a specific area of American literature, English 620B focuses on the American Gothic from the 18th century to the present. As a graduate-level course, English 620B is structured to address more than surface-level gateways to covered topics and works. It is vital that you prepare yourself to discuss the readings in depth, through theoretical and historical lenses.
Though the course readings are challenging, I will assist you throughout the course via threaded discussions, Skype or phone conversations, and email. This course focuses on developing your ability to comprehend and analyze difficult texts, situate them within a cultural context, respond to research questions in a rigorous academic manner, and present these responses cogently in written form. As a graduate-level literature course, English 620B requires extensive writing. Traditional argumentative writing remains the intellectual foundation of contemporary literary studies. In this course, student participation takes several forms, including short written research exercises, threaded discussions, critical commentaries of others’ posts, and a critical essay in which you engage with a scholarly conversation and assert and support an original argument.
We will read a broad spectrum of American Gothic texts. When making responses to each unit’s readings, consider the totality of that unit’s readings in your answer, even as you focus your responses on a particular claim.
Required Course Texts:
*Any edition of these texts will be fine.
- Wieland; or, the Transformation, Charles Brockden Brown
- The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
- The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
- Other short readings linked through eCollege
Student Learning Outcomes
- Develop a working definition of the American Gothic.
- Understand theories about the Gothic and apply them to American literature.
- Situate American Gothic texts within cultural and historical contexts.
- Analyze the role of gender in Gothic tropes and affects.
- Research topics related to the American Gothic and correctly cite findings in MLA format.
- Write a scholarly argument of publishable quality that synthesizes relevant biography, history, and criticism with an original interpretation of one or more of the course texts.
Students will be evaluated on their work in three areas: research activities, threaded discussions, and a critical paper. These assignments will comprise a total value of 100 points, and they will be broken down as follows:
|Weekly Research Assignments||4 assignments, worth 7.5 points each (30 points total)
|Discussions||Weekly participation, worth 7.5 points each week (30 points total)
|Critical Essay||1 paper (40 points)
In determining the final grade, I will use the following scale:
93-100: A 92-90: A-
89-87: B+ 86-83: B 82-80: B-
79-77: C+ 76-73: C 72-70: C-
69-67: D+ 66-63: D 62-60: D-
59 or fewer: F
Students are required to cite the use of materials written by others in all written communications for courses. Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else’s ideas or work as one’s own. This includes using ideas, words, or phrases without proper attribution. Students found plagiarizing are subject to the penalties outlined in the Policies and Procedures section of the University Catalog, which may include a failing grade for the work in question or for the entire course.
How the Course Works
This is a graduate seminar in literary studies. Graduate seminars are advanced courses. They require some undergraduate background in approach and content. In our approach to the course materials, I emphasize critical thinking, which entails thinking and writing within the tradition of the argumentative essay that you studied in high school and as an undergraduate. In a face-to-face classroom, “seminar” means student discussion of readings, often without the professor centering or controlling the conversation. I try to follow that model online. Here’s how: I begin each unit as I would in a classroom. I include a brief lecture about the topic of the week and the assigned readings. The weekly research tasks allow you to practice scholarly research in preparation for the critical essay and to hone in on areas of the American Gothic that you’d like to pursue further in the critical essay or in the discussion forums. Although the weekly research assignment is due at the end of each week, it might be useful to complete the research for that assignment earlier in the week so that it can inform your discussion contributions.
In the discussion boards I invite you to critically engage with the material and each other and to expand upon or diverge from the topics I’ve introduced in the lecture and discussion prompts (As long as you remain focused on the course readings and stay within the scope of the course theme, you have quite a bit of freedom). These threaded conversations will be an opportunity for you to analyze the readings, try out new ideas, develop them through dialogue, and—whether you agree or disagree with others in the class—practice relating your own claims to others’ ideas in a way that models collegiality and prepares you for working with published claims. The final result of that engagement will be your critical essay, where you will have the opportunity to delve into a single issue or topic related to the American Gothic, assert an original argument, and situate your argument within a scholarly conversation.
Explanation of Assignments
Discussion Board Participation
Along with the readings themselves, the discussion boards are the heart of the class. They are the space for you to interact with classmates and your instructor, form and develop ideas (one of which will likely center your critical essay), analyze particular passages and aspects of the reading assignments, and respond to classmates’ ideas.
To keep the discussions fresh in content and perspective, our weekly discussions will have assigned discussion leaders. With a handful of participants acting as discussion leaders each week, we will have a specific number of initial posts, with the rest of the class providing responses that create an active and engaging dialogue, similar to what we would have in a traditional in-class seminar setting. The protocol for answering the discussion questions follows. Specific instructions regarding day and time of postings to the discussion board can be found under each Unit’s “Threaded Discussion” tab. Please read all fellow students’ and instructor’s responses, not just the ones addressing your posts, and reply to those directed explicitly toward you. Even though I may address a question or comment to a specific person, I welcome others to reply as well. This will enhance the dialogue on the topic. If a classmate directs a question to you, be sure and respond before the discussion board closes.
It is expected at the graduate level that you have done the reading and formed some thoughts before you enter the classroom to begin the discussion. All threaded discussion posts and follow-up responses must focus on assigned readings. I have included prompts in each discussion forum to help start the thinking process. However, I encourage you to bring up topics and bring in materials that will deepen or complicate our understanding of the literary readings. Since this is a graduate-level course, you might read a critical essay about the assigned reading and engage with the critic’s ideas in your discussion post (Just be sure to offer a summary of the critic’s main argument before you offer your own position, as others in the class won’t have read the same essay. This kind of work with criticism will be good preparation for the critical essay as well).
Everyone will serve as a discussion leader in one unit. The names of discussion leaders are posted under each unit. Assigned discussion leaders will write two 500-word minimum responses, addressing two separate points, to what we have read for that week, using either the writing prompts or some other student-identified point of interest. All other participants (non-discussion leaders) will respond to at least three of these initial answers with 250-word minimum posts, meaning at least three posts per unit. The discussion leaders are then responsible for replying to at least two of the follow-up posts made to their initial answers with minimum 100-word responses.
Discussion leaders, your initial answers (two 500-word responses) are due no later than
Wednesday (except the first week, when they’re due Thursday). Non-discussion leaders must make at least their first response by Thursday (except the first week, when they’re due Friday). By Saturday (for the first week, Sunday), discussion leaders are responsible for replying to at least two of the follow-up posts made to their initial posts.
Although there is no upper word limit to the posts, remember that, like in a classroom, if one student goes on too long, it can be boring. Select an idea—or, perhaps, a few thoughts—specific to the unit’s texts and respond with citations from the reading(s) to support your view. In any post you can agree or disagree, of course, with what has been said previously, but this does not mean that you can simply state your opinion and believe that it is equal to anyone else’s opinion. Your remarks are not, in fact, an opinion at all. They are an argument in the classical sense of the term—you are proving or demonstrating something.
Simply making the appropriate number of posts (or additional ones) does not mean that the full amount of points will be earned for that unit. Although there are a minimum number of words stated for discussion and non-discussion leaders, you will not be graded on the number of words, but on the quality and expression of thought—and thoughts cannot be weighed. In literary studies critical thinking reigns, not the quantity of what is said. As a graduate-level course, I am looking for writing that is intellectually rigorous, exhibits critical engagement with the texts, and sustains a high level of critical thinking. Again, in the critical thinking mode, responses are not simply opinions on the topic. Opinions are, in fact, an argument (thesis) that you are putting forth to prove or demonstrate a point(s). As such, it is the quality of thought (the aforementioned intellectual rigor and critical thinking) that primarily supports the majority of any grade in each unit, as well as your final essay grade. This is true whether the responses are from discussion leaders or non-discussion leaders in any given unit.
The best posts will demonstrate innovative and provocative thought in relation to the topic. They will show critical engagement with the work(s). Please refrain from summarizing the plot and repeating what others have already said, and—in papers and discussion board posts—quote only parts of the text(s) that you are going to expound upon in your posts. Points will be deducted for missing and late posts.
Once a week, you’ll be ask to conduct small research tasks and write about 500 words on a topic. Sometimes these tasks involve watching a movie or analyzing one of our readings in light of a primary text. I recommend that you use the American Gothic Research Guide to find relevant resources for these assignments and contact your instructor or a NU librarian if you get stuck. Please don’t use commercial study sites like Sparknotes and Endotes for these assignments. Be sure to cite your sources in MLA format and include a Works Cited page. If you’re interested in designing and completing your own research assignment instead of one of the prompts, just let me know ahead of time: you’re more than welcome to replace a course assignment with a topic/task of your own (within the scope of the course theme and texts).
Your critical essay will involve analyzing a literary text or texts from our selected readings. You may select any topic that is worthy of literary analysis and directly relates to the course. The primary reason for the research paper is to demonstrate your ability to apply the knowledge you have acquired about a specific topic in order to develop a working thesis. It’s important that you take a clear stand in your essay. Be sure to include relevant and insightful secondary sources, which might support an aspect of your own argument or might provide counter-arguments against which you can articulate and support your own position. Rather than simply “repackaging” the conventional wisdom about one of our authors or topics, the best essays will address a topic that has received little attention, is controversial, or lends itself to multiple interpretations. Less arguable thesis statements often lead to plot summary, so be sure that you’re working with a truly arguable claim–a position with plausible counter-arguments and one that you’ll have to work to convince other critical readers of.
Taking into consideration the above information, you may undertake several approaches in your research, such as comparing and contrasting more than one text or honing in on a narrow aspect of one text. Your argument may relate to a theme, plot pattern, aesthetic approach, affect, character type, symbol, image, recurring conflict, etc. You might analyze how one of the key terms in Gothic studies that we researched in the first week of the course plays out in a course text. You might situate a text within a particular cultural context–reading between other texts of the period, for instance, with the focus on a narrow topic–to make an argument about the piece of literature, as we practiced in the week 3 research assignment (or you might extend the work you did in the week 3 research assignment or address the haunting houses and domestic ideology prompt I’ve included in the week 4 lecture).
Your literary text(s) you choose to analyze must be from our selected course readings. Be sure to include at least five additional sources, which may include scholarly literary criticism, historical criticism, and primary materials that directly inform and elucidate your argument. When you work with criticism, be sure to contextualize quotations before you offer them and always be explicit about the relationship between the critical argument and your own position (Do you agree with the critic’s point wholly, with only a part of it, or not at all, and why?). Always incorporate quotations into original sentences, and use block quotations sparingly within an essay: Quote at length only material with which you’ll be working extensively whose particular language is important to your use of the material. Otherwise, you might paraphrase the larger passage and quote only those clauses with which you’re closely working.
Please follow the MLA format for documentation and mechanics. Your paper should be approximately 10-15 pages in length. Please Note: Wikipedia, SparkNotes, Cliff’s Notes, etc. are not acceptable sources for the final essay in this course.
|Week 1: The Gothic, Fear, and God
Brown, Wieland; or, The Transformation: An American Tale
Recommended Course Readings (These readings will deepen your understanding of the Gothic and help to theorize it; however, they aren’t due on a specific date, and I realize that you may not have time to read all or any of them):
Burke, “Of the Sublime”
Freud, “The Uncanny”
Kristeva, “Approaching Abjection,” The Powers of Horror
Harpham, “The Grotesque: First Principles”
|Due Thursday (usually due Wednesday):
Assigned Discussion Leaders offer initial posts
Participants respond to Discussion Leaders’ Posts
Follow-up responses due
Research Assignment 1: Research a Gothic key term (Possible terms listed in Research Assignment 1) and post findings in the Research Assignment Threaded Discussion.
|Week 2: Optimism and Perversity
Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado”
Freeman, “Old Woman Magoun”
Lovecraft, “Herbert West: Reanimator”
Gilman, “The Yellow Wall-Paper”
Poe, “The Premature Burial”
Discussion Leaders’ initial postsDue Thursday:Participants’ responses to Discussion Leaders’ postsDue Saturday:
Discussion follow-up responses dueResearch Assignment 2: The Female Gothic or Gender and Gothic literature
|Week 3: The Gothic and American Ghosts
James, The Turn of the Screw
Twain, “A Ghost Story”
Freeman, “The Shadows on the Wall”
Discussion Leaders’ initial posts
Participants’ responses to Discussion Leaders’ posts
Research Assignment 3: Reading between literature and a primary text
Discussion follow-up responses due
|Week 4: Haunted Houses
Hawthorne, “Governor Pyncheon”: Ch. 18 of The House of the Seven Gables
Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
Discussion Leaders’ initial posts
Participants’ responses to Discussion Leaders’ posts
Research Assignment 4: Analysis of a Haunted House
Discussion follow-up responses due