Skip to main content

Unit information: New England's Dreaming: American Literature from Emerson to James in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name New England's Dreaming: American Literature from Emerson to James
Unit code ENGL29025
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Karlin
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The ‘idea of America’ is a motivating force, and animating presence, in American literature from its earliest period. This unit concentrates on how the answer to Crevecoeur’s famous question, in Letters from an American Farmer (1782), ‘What then is the American, this new man?’ shapes the literature produced in New York and New England during the nineteenth century by a group of exceptional writers and thinkers, beginning with Washington Irving and concluding with Henry James. The literary and cultural ferment of American Transcendentalism, the Abolitionist Movement, the reaction to ‘progress’ and the expansion of the frontier, the trauma of the Civil War, and the disenchantment of post-Civil War society, all feature in the unit as significant contexts, but the focus will be on detailed readings of novels, poems, essays, and works of criticism by the primary authors.


  • To teach students about significant texts and contexts of American literature from (roughly) 1830-1890.
  • To develop students' research skills.
  • To develop students' skills in oral and written communication.

Intended learning outcomes

  1. Knowledge of significant texts and contexts of American literature, 1830-1890.
  2. Ability to analyse complex literary works at the level of context, structure, and style, and reflect critically on the relation between literary history and the history of ideas.
  3. Ability to conduct appropriate research in textual, electronic, and online resources.
  4. Ability to articulate ideas clearly and correctly in both oral and written form.

Teaching details

One x 2 hour seminar per week.

Assessment Details

  • 1 essay of 2000 words (40%)
  • 1 essay of 3000 words (60%)

Both summative essays map onto ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

Reading for the unit is based on the Norton Anthology of American Literature, 7th edition, volume B (1820-1865) which contains the set reading for most of the primary texts.

Primary texts:

Washington Irving, The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (‘The Author’s Account of Himself’, ‘Rip Van Winkle’) (1819)

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1851)

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1856)

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845)

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855) and selections from Drum-Taps (1865)

Emily Dickinson, selected poems