English R1A

Reading and Composition: Writing American Nature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
7 Fall 2021 Warren, Noah
MWF 2-3 134 Dwinelle

Book List

Kimmerer, Robin Wall: Braiding Sweetgrass; Thoreau, Henry David: Walden, Civil Disobedience, and Other Writings (Norton)

Other Readings and Media

PDF excerpts:

Thomas Carlyle, “Signs of the Times”

Jonathan Edwards, “On the Spider” and “Sinners”

Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative

Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Margaret Fuller: Summer on the Lakes

Lewis and Clark, Journals

Mary Rowlandson, Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration

Charles Wilkins, The Baghvat-Geeta


For hundreds of years after the Columbian encounter, the phrase “American Literature” was an oxymoron and an impossibility. The hemisphere boasted no nations that Europeans had the ability to recognize as such—rather, colonies dependent on their respective empires, the continually redefined unorganized space on their maps, and the Native peoples whose political and cultural organization was opaque to those empires. What we now understand as “Literature” — language made to be interpreted as art — would have been as unfamiliar as the parallel cordon, “Science”. Instead, texts written in the New World predominantly took the form of journals, letters, expedition narratives, bureaucratic records, and sermons.


This class will explore the legacies of these varied genres in American nature writing since the mid-1800s. We’ll spend half the semester working through Thoreau’s Walden, supplementing it with short samples of the genres listed above. As we read, we’ll write both critically and exploratively, learning how to use the different tools and perspectives these genres permit in our own research and expression. Later in the term, we’ll see how these anti-“literary” inheritances play out in the late 20th century, and how the line between “literature” and “science” is complicated from angles both old and new.


This is a writing-intensive course. Students will turn in a three-page essay in the second week, a five-page essay in the fifth week, a seven-page essay in the eighth week, and a nine-page final essay. To build their skills to this point, students will draft, revise, and workshop, developing strategies to break up large assignments into manageable units of thinking and drafting.

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