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ENG 2310 American. Literary Cultures: Dr. Dell's Zeitgist Assignment

Resources and strategies in support of the broad survey of American literature class with a focus on the specific authors generally studied in that class.

Assignment Description

Spring 2019:

This project is creative!  It will give you an opportunity to choose a literary work that interests you and to learn more about both the literary work and the times (the context in which the work is set).  Further, this project will give you a unique opportunity to do archival research using digital sources, research that is fast growing for all of the humanities, not just English literature. 

You will choose a literary work from the readings this semester (with the exception of House of Seven Gables) and a historical reference from the work—a concept, issue, event, technology, or artifact that relates to the literary work and to the times.  You will find two digital sources that are dated from the period in which the work is written (at least 2-3 pages of text each and no more than 10-15 pages of reading total), which you will use to develop your paper.  Papers will include three parts:  a) a brief summary of the general cultural and historical context of the literary work as relevant to the topic you have chosen, b) an explanation of the specific historical reference (concept, issue, event, technology, artifact, etc.) and the two digital sources, and c) connections among the historical reference, the digital sources, and the literary work, including literary analysis.  The final paper should be 3-4 pages typed, Times New Roman 12, double-spaced.  You will need a brief bibliography, so please keep track of the digital sources you use.  The paper should be handed in to me as a paper copy and also uploaded to turnitin.

Brief example:  HOSG and the daguerreotype.  The daguerreotype was a new science, or technology, invented in 1839 that would revolutionize art and portraiture, but would also become the forerunner for photojournalism.  Holgrave educates Phoebe Pyncheon on the importance of the daguerreotype in the first garden scene, and claims that it is magical, made “out of sunshine,” and that one can see in them the “secret truth”.  Daguerrotype is used late in the novel to solve the mystery of the Pyncheon “curse.” 

If I were doing this project, I might find a digital source such as a magazine or newspaper article about the new art form of daguerrotype.  I might also find an advertisement from the 1840-50s and or look for some actual daguerrotypes. 


Literary work—one of the following—O Pioneers, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Death of a Salesman, The Things They Carried or Little Fires Everywhere

Historical Reference—the topic within one of the literary works that you will research.  You will research a social, cultural, economic, religious, political, environmental, or historical item mentioned in the literary work.

Digital source—the item that you find on one of BU’s databases that is dated from the time period in which the literary work is set.  Digital sources should be at least 2-3 pages of text each and no more than 10-15 pages of reading total.

Selected Content for Each Work

See also the link in the left-hand column to Life (magazine).

Starting Points/General Sources

Below are listed a few good resources for primary source information on history, culture, and general issues in American history.

University Libraries

One Bear Place #97148
Waco, TX 76798-7148

(254) 710-6702