Week 16: The Final Countdown!

Fox News, “Trump to Establish 1776 Commission

The New York Times and Nikole Hannah-Jones, “1619 Project Symposium” (2019)

PBS Newshour, “1619 Project” Connections”

Hi Everyone,

Please keep working on your final assignment. I am extending the deadline for this essay till Monday, Dec. 20. If you get your essay loaded on to googledocs before this, I’m happy to review it for you. Email me at mnoonan@citytech.cuny.edu regarding any questions.

Upload your essay draft to our google docs driveHERE 




Our required readings for the semester are over but I want to leave you with some concluding thoughts. Due to slavery, the U.S. began to break apart in the 1850s. John Brown is hanged in 1859 for trying to start a slave rebellion in the South but the war really begins with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Quickly, most of the southern states secede, knowing that this will be the end of a way of life, created on the backs of millions of unpaid, brutalized African American people. The Civil War officially begins in March of 1861, pitting the North (the Union) against the South (the Confederacy). After four years of grotesque battles (over 500,000 dead), the North wins and America (in the 13th Amendment) abolishes slavery forever.

In April of 1865, as the war is about to end, Abraham Lincoln is assassinated by a southern actor named John Wilkes Booth. In Lincoln’s place, we get a new racist President Andrew Johnson who sets in motion the Jim Crow laws of the 1870s and 1880s. This story is, however, is beyond the scope of this class, though the legacy of slavery and racism remains (as the 1619 Project brilliantly argues).

If you have time over the break, I recommend reading a famous short speech Lincoln gave during the middle of the Civil War, in which he says the North must keep fighting to ensure a “rebirth of freedom.”

 “Gettysburg Address”

I also recommend three spectacular films that help us understand the Civil War:

1) Glory 2) Harriet and 4) Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

Lastly, for WONDERFUL holiday entertainment, PLEASE WATCH the fabulous Little Women (written by Louisa May Alcott).  View film trailer Here.

Have a wonderful break all!

Week 15: Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne (Complete Final Essay Assignment)

By Monday, please email me to let me know the topic (author or theme) that you will write about for your Essay Assignment (I am only requiring one essay for this class). You may focus on readings we’ve done (working from one of your earlier posts perhaps) or even one of this week’s authors: Hawthorne and Melville. You could also focus on a film I’ve recommended throughout this course.  The Final Essay is due Friday, Dec. 17.

Email me your topic at: mnoonan@citytech.cuny.edu

Upload your essay draft to our google docs drive: HERE (upload your file from your


HERE IS A SAMPLE STUDENT ESSAY (on Frederick Douglass)



One of the greatest friendships in the history of American Literature is the one between two of our finest authors, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. 

Hawthorne was a popular writer of short stories in the 1830s and 1840s but became truly famous with the publication of his novel The Scarlet Letter (in 1850).  The novel is set in the time of the Puritans in New England (in the 1600s) and focuses on a young lady named Hester Prynne who has a child (Pearl) out of wedlock.  The father is none other than the minister of the highly religious community, Reverend Dimmesdale.  Dimmesdale does not confess to his “sin” and leaves Hester to handle the scorn that is thrust upon her by her fellow “Christian” townspeople. 

Please watch this film trailer of the book (starring Demi Moore): HERE

Please watch this film trailer of a fun, updated version of the novel, Easy A (starring Emma Stone ): HERE

Please read Chapter Two (“The Marketplace”) of The Scarlet Letter (1850), in which a pregnant Hester Prynne must step up on a scaffold in the middle of town and face an abusive crowd demanding she confess who the father is.

Hawthorne’s works were very influential to Herman Melville. He too had been a popular writer of sea voyages (he had gone on a two year whale voyage himself).  In 1851, inspired by the truth-telling of Hawthorne, he wrote Moby-Dick, or the Whale, a lengthy novel considered to be one of the greatest works in Western literature. 

Moby-Dick features a narrator named Ishmael who decides to leave his boring day job in New York City in the 1840s to go on an adventurous whaling voyage.  He boards the whaling ship, the Pequod, and quickly befriends a fellow whaleman from the Pacific Islands named Queequeg (adorned with amazing tattoos across his entire body).  The co-star of the novel, however, is the mad crazy Captain Ahab who really only wants to chase down a white whale named Moby-Dick who in a previous voyage bit off Ahab’s right leg (he now walks with a peg leg).  A symbol of revenge and arbitrary authority, Ahab’s obsessive quest to harpoon Moby-Dick (spoiler alert) causes the Pequod to sink.  All but Ishmael survives.

Please read the famous opening chapter of Moby-Dick HERE

Please watch this biography of Melville that includes a discussion of his friendship with Hawthorne: HERE

If you have the time, I also highly recommend watching this recent film version of Moby-Dick: HERE

No need to post on these readings and videos.  Just enjoy and work on your final essay topic. 

Week 12: Walt Whitman and Frederick Douglass

Happy Thanksgiving and Wapanoag Week!!!

For this week, I wish to introduce two ardent supporters of true Democracy and equality: the famous poet Walt Whitman and equally famous abolitionist (and former slave) Frederick Douglass.

Please first view this brief biography of Whitman: HERE

Song of Myself - Wikipedia

Read excerpts from his poetry collection “Leaves of Grass” (1855): HERE

Listen to Harvard historian David Blight talk about his new book on Frederick Douglass: HERE

Frederick Douglass

Also view this video of James Earl Jones reading Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” (1852)

By Wednesday, Dec. 1, post a response to one of these readings or videos.

To end the semester, I will also be introducing Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, two of America’s greatest authors. 

I will ask that you watch a recent film version of Melville’s Moby-Dick

You may write your final essay on this film (or others I’ve briefly introduced).

Recommended films include: “Harriet”; “Little Women”; “The Scarlet Letter”; “Moby-Dick”; or perhaps the highly acclaimed “Glory” (on African American soldiers who fought in the Civil War); Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”; “Amistad” (a powerful film concerning a slave ship uprising).

By Dec. 1, please choose a topic (author or theme) that you would like to write about for your Essay Assignment (I am only requiring one essay for this class). You may focus on readings we’ve done (working from one of your earlier posts perhaps) or choose a topic from upcoming authors Hawthorne and Melville (you could also focus on a film I’ve recommended).  


HERE IS A SAMPLE STUDENT ESSAY (on Frederick Douglass)

Week 11: The Era of Reform: 1840-1865 (Women’s Rights). Post Due: Wed., Nov. 17

For the remainder of the semester, we will be focusing on American Literature during the Era of Reform. This era (also known as the American Renaissance) saw the emergence of remarkable writers and thinkers dedicated to realizing the promise of a vital, engaged democracy. Writers such as Margeret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglas, and Louisa May Alcott focused on a number of issues needing improvement in America ranging from women’s rights, worker rights, education for all, and an overall enlightened political and artistic culture.

As we start this final section, I want you to start thinking about a topic (author or theme) that you would like to write about for your Essay Assignment (I am only requiring one essay for this class). You may focus on readings we’ve done (working from one of your earlier posts perhaps) or choose a topic from upcoming authors (you could also focus on a film I’ve recommended).  



Please choose a topic by Nov. 25. The essay will be due Dec. 14. Please email me about any questions you may have or for a topic suggestion (mnoonan@citytech.cuny.edu).

For this week we will focus on the fight for equality for men AND women. This story begins in a town in New York state called Seneca Falls. It was here in 1848, that women (led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony) met at a convention to demand their rights. Together they penned the Declaration of Sentiments, which as you’ll note, was a re-writing of the original Declaration of Independence (1776).

Read: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments” (1848). Also important in this fight was the Transendentalist Margaret Fuller, who wrote Woman in the 19th Century. Here is an excerpt from her landmark book: “Educate Men and Women as Souls”

Importantly, Sojourner Truth called out the early fight for Women’s Rights for not including African American women as well in their efforts.

Listen to what she had to say in this speech reenactment: VIDEO

Here is the original text of the speech: “Ain’t I a Woman?”

In 2020, the first monument to women went up in Central Park featuring Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth. Read the STORY here.

There is also a remarkable and important film on the great African American Freedom Fighter Harriet Tubman, which I highly encourage you to watch (if not now perhaps over the break). The film shows Tubman’s courageous work on “the Underground Railroad” in which she helped southern enslaved persons escape their masters to flee north. View film trailer here: Harriet Tubman

I also HIGHLY recommend the recent film version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women , which provides a wonderful sense of life in the 1840s in Concord from the perspective of courageous, talented young ladies. View film trailer Here.

For this week, please read and watch the above mentioned readings and videos. In your post, respond to ONE of them. Alternately, pick a grievance from the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments and speak to how this issue relates to women’s position in society today (cite an example if you can).


Consider attending “The Soho Memory Project” discussion (Tues. 11/16 1-2 pm)

A discussion on Zoom of the SoHo Memory Project Documentary with City Tech Professor Josh Kapusinski (COMD, Moving Pixels Club), Jonathan Baez (City Tech alum and cinematographer), and Or Szyflingier (alum and director).

Consider reviewing the accompanying article and video:

I will offer extra credit for attending this event.


Preserving and Telling a New York Story (Tues., Nov 16 1-2pm)https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87040228416?pwd=UnNHMzRSSU1IQzVhZXoxWkZHZUg3UT09

Meeting ID: 870 4022 8416

Passcode: 175967

One tap mobile+16465588656,,87040228416#,,,,*175967# US (New York)+13017158592,,87040228416#,,,,*175967# US (Washington DC) Dial by your location        +1 646 558 8656 US (New York)


Week 10: POE POE POE POE POE Post Due: Mon., Nov. 9

Thank you students for your thoughtful responses to the courageous soul and brilliant writer: Henry David Thoreau. Ariel, for example, points to the key quote from “Civil Disobedience” that calls attention to the importance of taking a stand against a corrupt government:

Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?”

From Walden,or Life in the Woods, there are so many powerful quotes and words of wisdom.  Amina chose this great one:

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard times. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is.” 

Mohammed chose this fantastic line:

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more that his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

In a chaotic world in which we are all obsessively glued to our laptops and iphones for too much of the day, let’s all take a breather and try to find true solitude and perhaps even higher enlightenment. Thoreau and Emerson (and Nature itself) can serve as guides for accessing the “genius” within us all and the power of the glorious universe around us.


For this week, I want to introduce America’s first professional writer of stories and poetry: Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe remains one of the world’s most beloved and versatile writer and a key figure in American Romanticism. In “The Murders of the Rue Morgue” (1841), featuring the detective C. Auguste Dupin (think Sherlock Holmes), he invented the detective story. In his novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, he wrote the first science fiction novel. He also invented the horror genre that fueled the writings of Stephen King and today’s many horror films. He was also America’s first literary critic. 

He led an unusual life, filled with youthful love, romantic yearning, literary ambition, and—unfortunately—alcoholism. His life experiences allowed him to become a master of psychological forces that brood just beneath the surface of our own rational selves. As you read his works, think about how they serve as precursors to Sigmund Freud’s theories on the battle between our rational and irrational impulses (the Id, the Ego, and Superego).

Here is a short biography of his life.

Interestingly, Poe spent his last years in the Bronx in a cottage that remains a museum (and a great place to visit).  Please watch this video of his years there.

His most famous poem “The Raven” (1845) was written in Manhattan (West 84th Street to be exact) and relates the extreme grief a narrator feels upon the death of a beautiful maiden, named “Lenore.”  When a raven comes into his apartment and sits upon a bust of Pallas (Athena who represents wisdom and rationality), he starts asking all kinds of crazy questions hoping for answers about a possible reunification with Lenore. The poem is renowned for its symbolism and repetitive rhyme scheme that mimics the feelings of unending grief.  It’s also important to note that Poe lost his own young wife (Virginia Clemm), soon after writing this poem. He knew she was dying of tuberculosis and had only months to live.

Please watch a video version of the poem here:  “The Raven”  (read by Christopher Lee)

Please also read this spooky tale (one of many), focusing on the themes of madness and revenge, called “The Black Cat.”

If you have the time, I also highly recommend watching this new animated film based on several of his stories (it’s free but there are a few ads).

In your post, please let me know which tale, poem, or part of the film interested you the most and why. You may also choose to make a connection of Poe’s life to his fiction. Post due: Monday, Nov. 7th.


Week 9: Henry David Thoreau Post due Wed., Oct. 28th

Hi Students:

As we think about the mixed legacies of our “Founding Fathers” (George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, etc), here’s a recent development in NYC. Please read about how the statue of Thomas Jefferson will be removed from City Hall.


Nice work on your extremely interesting posts on Ralph Waldo Emerson and his writings that promoted the Transcendental Movement.

Several of you pointed to the beauty, power, and continued relevance of his essay “Nature”.  Maria talks of how truly “moving” the essay is and how Emersonian philosophy can actually change us if we let it.  She quotes the line: “Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes” and explains that this concept is what we now know as “grounding” or “earthing” (i.e. getting our spiritual bearings in a mad, mad world!)  For Sumayah, the essay’s importance is Emerson’s stress on finding “inner peace” by occasionally removing ourselves from society. We can also access Nature’s enormous power as Mehreen and Ulises write. Mehreen quotes the line:  “We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy.”  Amy and Karina, in turn, comment on the compelling line that “To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.” As they clarify, we must open ourselves to the power of Nature to regain our lost purity and our true sense of self.

Several of your wrote on his intriguing, “The American Scholar.” Zariff quotes the great line that we are all too often “the victim of society” … and merely  “parrot of other men’s thinking.”  Tenzin connects Emerson to how students need to be independent thinkers today and quotes the fantastic line: “Free should the scholar be, — free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom.” To capture this same point, Ariel chose the line: “Colleges … can only highly serve us, when they aim not to drill, but to create … and  set the hearts of youth on flame.”  We need to be “nourished” by college not treated like mere robots, writes Enson. Let’s also keep in mind Emerson’s point, as Nelson reminds that “Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst” .  We need to be truly “active” readers and original thinkers.

All these points come to a crescendo in Emerson’s towering “Self-Reliance.” Mohammed chose the line: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think” , connecting it to his own challenges of not letting the thoughts of others “dictate” his life. Brian writes, “After reading Emerson’s essay, I think he is saying that while we are capable of thinking for ourselves, we often follow in the footsteps of others. In a way it’s like “monkey see monkey do.” Well said!!! Cristin similarly warns that “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.” It’s hard to be an individual but we always need to believe in ourselves, Amina adds, quoting the line: “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” 


This week we move on to Emerson’s equally impressive protégé and student: Henry David Thoreau.  Thoreau took Emerson’s idea to heart, actually moving to a cabin on Walden Pond (in Concord), living by himself for 2 years, 2 months, and two days!!! Why he did this and what he learned in the woods is the basis for his classic book Walden, or Life in the Woods (1845).  Please watch the video below that explores his aims. 

Please also read excerpts from his work: HERE

Here is the Full Book (For Future Reading): Walden

Also consider reading a fascinating recent article on Walden‘s relevance to young people today:

“The Fragility of Solitude: What Thoreau Could Teach Me, a Pakistani American Woman?”

Thoreau did not just hide out from society. While living in his cabin on Walden Pond, he wrote one of the world’s most important protest essays: “On Civil Disobedience.”  In protest of slavery and America’s war with Mexico (in 1844), he famously refused to pay his taxes and was put in jail (for two days). The essay explains why he can’t pay taxes to a government that is corrupt and that we all should go to jail rather than acquiescing to a nation’s evil actions (the heart of civil disobedience).  His essay was extremely important to later social activists including Ghandi (in India) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (who himself wrote a famous letter while imprisoned in a Birmingham Jail.)

Please read this excerpt of Civil Disobedience

POST ASSIGNMENT: Comment on a passage from either Walden or “Civil Disobedience” (or from one of the articles) that strikes you as particularly interesting and important.

Week 8: Ralph Waldo Emerson and American Transcendentalism Post Due: Wed., Oct. 20

Excellent posts last week, students, on Hamilton, Franklin, and the American Enlightenment.

Mohammed, Tenzin, Mehreen, Amina, Zarif, and Brian focused on Franklin’s “secret sauce” behind his far-ranging excellence: reading, debate, understanding human limits and possibilities, and always striving to do and be better.  Brianna and Christin rightly took stock of the amazing range of Franklin’s talents and interests, while Ulises and Ariel pointed to his deeply moralistic and philanthropic nature.  Of his pursuit of human perfection, Maria aptly writes:

“Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Chastity, Humility. JUST WOW.”

Sumayah, in turn, commented on a crucial distinction between the Puritans of the 1600s and Enlightenment figures like Franklin who believed in the active pursuit of human ethics over mere faith in God to improve oneself and society.

As Harood and Karina point out, Franklin’s morality is best evident perhaps in his overlooked anti-slavery petition, written just before his death.  Karina cites this important line that insists on true American equality:

“The Christian Religion teaches us to believe that mankind are all formed by the same Almighty being, and are all alike objects of his Care, & are equally designed for the Enjoyment of Happiness; Since we believe that these blessings should be given without distinction of Colour to all People, we expect that everything should be done to help all people.”

What about Alexander Hamilton?  Enson pointed to Hamilton’s own enormous achievement as a founder of this nation and how his popular Musical helps show this to a worldwide audience.

As Amy writes, the sensational song in the video by the cast members: “is about his journey and points out his hardships of losing his mother, the debt left behind by his father, and how his cousin committed suicide. He started working and trading goods such as sugar cane and things he couldn’t afford. He sailed onto a ship to New York to become a new man.” 

Hamilton’s story is about a self-made man (like Franklin and Venture Smith) but it’s also an early mythical New York success story (“if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere…).

At the same time, we need to keep a critical eye on the past and how it’s relayed. History (and literature and musicals) are as much about documenting the past as they are about leaving important facts out.  Let’s always be wary about who’s telling the story and why (and who’s and what’s not being included in the story), as Nelson and Terriann in their astute posts, remind us.


We are now at the mid-point of the semester.  I have provided a mid-term grade based on your posts thus far.  Go to the “Check Your Grade” icon (on the right side of the site) to check on this.  At this point, I also want you to start thinking about a topic (author or theme) that you would like to write about for your Essay Assignment (I am only requiring one essay for this class). HERE ARE DIRECTIONS FOR THE ESSAY. Please choose a topic by Nov. 2. The essay will be due Dec. 14. Please email me about any questions you may have (mnoonan@citytech.cuny.edu).


For this week, I want you to read some of the writings of America’s first renown poet, philosopher, and essayist: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882).  

Please watch this brief documentary on his life, which was filmed in Concord, MA, where he lived for much of his life. Concord was the center of the Transcendentalist movement and remains a great place to visit.

Emerson’s first great essay (“Nature”) focused on the topic of attaining power and connection to God by leaving our desks and computers and taking a walk in the woods. Only in finding solitude (far away from others) can we find our true selves.  In “Nature” (1836), we see the core of Transcendental thought, i.e. how to revive our souls and become “part and parcel of God.”

Here is its key passage, illustrating the power of transcendence that Nature allows:

In the woods, is perpetual youth… In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. … I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature. 

Please read an excerpt from “Nature” HERE.

Another important essay by Emerson was “The American Scholar” (1837), in which he argues that colleges need to train students to think for themselves, not simply repeat ideas that are told to them. We all need to become what he calls, “Man Thinking” — students/scholars who read deeply, question all that they read, and act on this knowledge to improve society and themselves.

His most famous essay — perhaps the most famous essay every written — is “Self-Reliance” (1850), which makes the case for radical individuality. It’s a somewhat long, repetitive essay, in which he essentially reiterates the key idea to “trust thyself” but well worth pondering and returning to as I do every year.  The link I provide is a helpful guide to this essay (which it reprints at the bottom of the page). Choose a passage to read that interests you.

For your post, I ask you to choose a favorite line or section from one of these essays (“Nature”; “American Scholar”, or “Self-Reliance”). Discuss what you think Emerson is saying and how it connects in some way to your own life and/or present day society.

Week 7: Benjamin Franklin and the American Enlightenment (1700-1800) Post Due: Wed. Oct. 13

United States one-hundred-dollar bill - Wikipedia

Thanks for last week’s posts, students, on the Declaration of Independence, Venture Smith, and Phyllis Wheatly.

Paulina, Enson and Tenzin make the point that Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration is a crucial cornerstone of American democracy that outlines our freedoms and insists on taking action when one’s “life, liberty, or happiness” is at stake.  At the same time, as Maria and Christin point out, there is enormous “hypocrisy” of Jefferson (and Wheatly’s owners) participating in the enslavement of humans while at the same time encouraging universal equality.

Remarkably, Wheatly, as Nelson and Mehreen point out, was America’s FIRST published poet, showing “that blacks could be both artistic and intellectual” despite their horrific circumstances. She was also quite gifted at her craft. Brianna notes her use of “Biblical language” in her poetry as well as her strong faith in God (and Patriotism).  Mohammed, in turn, quotes the line:  “Some view our sable race with scornful eyes” to point out just how ridiculous racism is. For, as Wheatley argues in her poem, “all Christians” are equal under God.

Brian and Sumayah, in turn, remark on the “greatness” of Venture Smith who bought himself (and his family) out of slavery and purchased valuable land on the Connecticut River.  A giant of a man, he was certainly “a man of remarkable strength and resolution.”  Yet, as Amy points out, Smith must have suffered deeply “a kind of PTSD” having been a slave and “witnessing” the brutal death of his father at such a young age.

This week I want you to examine the life and writings of one of America’s most famous “founding fathers”: Benjamin Franklin.  Franklin was born to a large, relatively poor family in Boston in the year 1706. His father was a candle-stick maker, who had him apprenticed to his brother’s newspaper office. Young Benjamin was trained as a printer but did not like the way his brother treated him, so he famously escaped first to NYC, then landed in Philadelphia. 

In Philadelphia, he became the famed publisher of the Philadelphia Gazette newspaper and printed a best-selling book of moral maxims called “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” From this work, we get famous lines such as “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man, healthy, wealthy, and wise”; “Look before You Leap”; “No pains no gains”; and “The Early Bird Gets the Worm.”

Franklin was a product of the Enlightenment, a period that encouraged intellectual freedom, religious tolerance, and rational thought (versus unthinking dogmatism). Enlightenment thinkers trusted in science and progressive ideals to help humans reach their fullest potential. Franklin’s life exhibits this as this short biography shows (PLEASE WATCH).

The American Enlightenment, of course, has a mixed legacy.  It did produce such celebrated political documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution but it DID NOT eliminate slavery and too many people (women, Native Americans, immigrants, the working-classes) continued to be treated as second-class citizens (or worse). 

We see a horrific example of the failure of “enlightened” men to practice what they preached in the original Constitution itself.  When determining the number of representatives each state could send to Congress, the framers decided to count the number of “free” people living in each state but only “3/5” of “others” (in other words, slaves did not count as whole people in determining representation in Congress).  This is the notorious “3/5 clause” that stayed in the Constitution until slavery was finally ended with the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Please read the full story here.

One of the important framers of the Constitution was Alexander Hamilton, who now has a famed Broadway show based on his life. For all his accomplishments, Hamilton did not share the democratic views of Franklin, who tried to rid America of slavery and tirelessly promoted science and learning for all. 

This is not true of Hamilton, even though his Broadway show celebrates his immigrant upbringing and has a multi-ethnic cast (certainly a far stretch from historical reality). The songs from “Hamilton” ARE great though and try to tell a positive message.  Please watch the trailer here. Also neat is the video below as the cast of “Hamilton” sings to an admiring young fan on Zoom during the pandemic.

For this week, I ask you to consider Benjamin Franklin as a man of the Enlightenment. Please read the following chapters from his Autobiography (written in 1790).  

Chapter II: Beginning Life as a Printer

Chapter III: Arrival in Philadelphia

Chapter IX: Plan for Arriving at Moral Perfection

Chapter XVIII: Scientific Experiments

Please also read Franklin’s Petition to Congress in 1790, requesting an end to Slavery.

Ben Franklin’s Petition to Congress in 1790, requesting an End to Slavery

Here is the actual petition: Petition

POST ASSIGNMENT: In your post, highlight a section from Franklin’s writings that show his “enlightened” qualities OR comment on another reading/video of your choice. Questions to consider: How did Franklin become so successful? What do we learn about his character and views? How is he different from the Puritans? How does his life compare to Venture Smith? What do you think of his plan for perfection? How does it work out for him? Why is he so interested in scientific experiments? Why is his face on the $100 dollar bill? Post Due: Wed. Oct. 14

Declaration of Independence, Venture Smith, Phyllis Wheatley

Post due Wed. Oct. 6th

Thanks for your insightful responses to the “1619 Project,” lessons from which this course will be closely heeding.  Ulises reminds us what “a great failure” it is “to take away knowledge and hide the truth” from students. But that is what schools in the past have done and continue to do. Mohammed writes that studying the past honestly is “not about hating one’s country but instead learning about the good and bad of the country. You can’t hide what was done and act like it never happened.” Amy adds that “history is meant to be taught, and we learn it to prevent tragedies from occurring again.” This is a very real “threat” as Nelson maintains, for far too many Americans remain “threatened” by learning the darker facts of American history (alongside our nation’s many enormous achievements).

Let’s keep in mind, as Paulina reiterates. the guiding aim of the 1619 project:

“What would it mean to center the experience of Black Americans in our telling of U.S. history?”

With this question in mind, we turn to America’s remarkable break from British rule with the Revolutionary War (1776-1783).  The war officially starts in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson (with help from Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and others).  The Declaration claims that “All men are created equal,” but as Brianna reminds us, Jefferson was himself a slave-holder (and had several children with his slave Sally Hemings).  In the original draft of the Declaration, Jefferson blames the King of England for the slave trade, but neither this document nor The Constitution (framed in 1787) abolished slavery in America.

For this week, we will review the Declaration of Independence and also read about two important African Americans who accomplished a great deal despite being enslaved.  Specifically, I ask that you read chapter one from the autobiography of Venture Smith and an essay on the first published American poet: Phyllis Wheatley. 

  1. Read the Declaration of Independence, focusing on its key message:

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent & inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

2. Watch my Video lecture on colonial New York Print Culture and Venture Smith. I produced this talk for an academic conference held in New York in 2020.

3. Read Russell Shorto’s “On Slavery’s Doorstep in Ghana”. This essay recounts a trip by descendants of Venture Smith who return to “the door of no return” in Ghana, Africa where Venture left on a slave ship to America in the early 1700s.

Post a comment on ONE of these readings (or video).  Due Wed. Oct. 6th

This is a lot of reading, so do the best you can to complete it. Choose what you have time for.

Week Four: The “1619” Project–Post Due: Monday, Sept. 27 (by noon)

A United States border patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on Sunday.

I begin today’s post with a photograph of a Haitian man and his son being “rounded up” by an American border control agent near Mexico. This picture was not taken 100 years ago, or 10 years ago (or in 1620!), but YESTERDAY. Here is the full article on how President Biden has ordered over 15,000 Haitian migrants at the border of America to be flown back to Haiti. As we think about the Pilgrims who were our first immigrants, let us not forget that the challenges of migrating remain daunting and America is certainly not “the land of the free” beckoning “the homeless,” poor, frightened, and/or persecuted it sometimes claims to be.

Many of us take the treatment of immigrants personally. As Jubrainy writes,

Many of the people who come to America come in search of the famous “dream”. That “dream” is different for everyone, many parents sacrifice themselves to give their children the opportunity to have a better life, a brighter future, to expand the opportunities that might not be available for them in their country of origin. I … consider myself an immigrant and even sympathize with those people who struggle to go out there in search of a better life.

The story of the Pilgrims is one of courage, endurance, and deep faith in pursuit of their dream to be free to practice their religion (which America still encourages). Yet, it is also one of intolerance to those who are different and a repulsion for Native Americans — even though it was Squanto and other Wampanoags that helped the Pilgrims survive the first brutal winter. It is for this reason that some of you prefer to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead of Thanksgiving. Many of you, however, recognize perhaps the true meaning of this day. It’s not necessarily about a historical moment; rather, as Briana writes, “’Thanksgiving is about alliance, and abundance,’ a day that families just like the pilgrims in the video put their differences aside to come together and look back at all they’ve been through months prior.” Tenzin eloquently adds the comment: “Thanksgiving to me is the moment to take a pause and reflect on everything that I have and all the people I’m surrounded by. Life is too short to not be grateful for being able to live another day. As Covid had taught us, life is precious, being grateful can help improve physical health, mental health, enhance sleep, increase self-esteem and improve overall physical health and bring positive energy. When you bring positive energy, you can radiate positive energy around you.” Wise words indeed.


American Literature and History is filled with difficult material, none so difficult as our next topic that has its effects to the present day. In 1619, in the southern colony of Virginia, the first enslaved Africans were introduced to North America. Eventually, slavery would spread across the colonies and remain a horrid yet legal part of our nation until the end of the Civil War in 1865 that abolished it forever.

For this week, I ask to you review the “1619 Project” which recently (and controversially) has come be part of a campaign to raise greater awareness of the history of slavery in this country. Too often understudied, understanding and coming to terms with the history and legacy of slavery in America is more important now than ever before.

First, please review the full-site of the “1619 Project”.

Read about the controversy over introducing it into High School and College curricula.

Listen: Trailer: “Introducing 1619”

Listen: Episode Two: “The Fight for a True Democracy”

Choose a line, a key point, or topic from one of these podcasts (or site) that interests you and share your thoughts about it in a post. Be sure to read earlier student posts and focus on a different topic than what others have posted on.

Week 3: The Pilgrims Land in Plymouth, 1620 POST DUE: MONDAY, SEPT. 20 (by noon)


Thank you for your insightful comments to last week’s readings and documentaries.  Mohammed, Karina, and others commented on the extraordinary amount of bloodshed and destruction following the “discovery” of America by Cristopher Columbus while appreciating that there were Spaniards such as De Las Casas who were disgusted by these atrocities and spoke out (the beginning of “reformist” writing in American Literature). At the same time, Sumaya pointed out the gorgeous imagery of Columbus’s letter in his description of Cuba.  She quotes the line: ”There are wonderful pine woods and very extensive ranges of meadowland. There is honey, and there are many kinds of birds and a great variety of fruits. Inland there are numerous mines of metals and innumerable people.” It’s important to keep in mind that Columbus—despite his now largely negative reputation—was a highly educated, “Renaissance Man” as his highly skilled writing shows (a point reiterated by Harood). Let’s also keep in mind, as Mehreen, Ulises, and other students discuss, that there were indeed “innumerable” people that Columbus encountered (estimates go as high as 150 million Native Americans from thousands of different tribes). Each tribe possessed rich cultures, highly evolved political systems, and – despite what the Spaniards thought—remarkable, intriguing religious beliefs of their own. Enson makes the cool observation (from Columbus) that “some of their canoes had seventy and eighty men in them, and each had an oar.” Quite a canoe!!!  Let’s also not forget about the Dutch origins of Mannahatta (NYC) where the great tribe of Lenape peoples lived and flourished.  Our first poet is in fact the Dutch Jacob Steendam, author of “In Praise of New Netherland.” As Terri-Ann astutely writes of this celebratory piece, “You instantly hear his bemoaning and sadness for anyone who has not had the grand opportunity to experience or live in NY: “you poor, who know not how your living to obtain.”  NYC from the start has been an island of great dreams and ambitions.

This week, we will continue to investigate the fate of Indigenous peoples subsequent to European “contact.”  Some 150 years after Columbus “discovered” the Caribbean Basin (in 1492), the Pilgrims from England landed on Plymouth Rock (in Massachusetts) in November of 1620, looking to practice their own “purified” version of Christianity.  They did not encounter “innumerable” Native Americans (many of whom had already died from European illnesses) but did discover an English-speaking Wampanoag native named Squanto, who helped them survive that first brutal winter. 

In your readings and viewings, I ask you to delve into our New England history and think about who the Pilgrims were, what they sought in coming to America, as well as their views and understandings of the Native Americans they encountered.  The date 1620 (like 1492) is important as a founding moment in American History (and why we celebrate Thanksgiving!).  Next week, we will see how this date is now importantly connected to the year 1619 – the year African slaves were first brought to the colony of Virginia.

Here is your assignment for this week:

  1. Read about how Mexico is dealing with the history and legacy of Christopher Columbus in the recent article Mexico City to Replace Columbus Statue
  2. View: The Pilgrims (chapter 1) and The First Thanksgiving
  3. Read excerpts from the History of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford Of Plymouth Plantation (1650)
  4. Review the Website Our Story: 400 Years of Wampanoag History and watch the opening video (“1614: Captured” which tells the story of how Squanto was Kidnapped and brought to England)
  5. Post a response to one of the following questions (with support from your readings/viewings): 1. How does the Pilgrim story connect to more recent immigrant stories? 2.  How did the Pilgrims see their settlement of America in relation to God?  2.  Based on your readings, do you feel we should celebrate Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s day? 3. Will you be celebrating Thanksgiving this year?  Why or why not?  OR 4. Respond to a key theme, passage, or scene from one of the readings (or videos) that spoke to you. TO POST BE SURE TO CLICK ON THE “COMMENTS” ICON ABOVE (THEN POST COMMENT UNDER “LEAVE A REPLY”)

Your First Assignment(s)

Topic: First Encounters in the New World

  1. Watch: Video Lecture

2) View   “Lost History of the Taino People” 

3) Read Christopher Columbus, “On His First Voyage to America, 1492”  

and Bartolome de Las Casas “Destruction of the Indies”

4) View “New York: Before the City” (with Eric Sanderson)

5) Read:  Biography of Jacob Steendam and his poem “In Praise of New Netherland” (1636) 

6) Post a response to a key episode, line, or theme from one of your readings and from one of the documentaries . Explain what you found to be interesting, disturbing, and/or confusing.

Due Date (Monday, Sept. 13): Next Week is Labor Day Weekend and most classes are cancelled for the week, so I will give you two weeks to complete this first assignment.

Welcome Students!

Welcome to City Tech and English 2200: American Literature I. This is an asynchronous class that only meets virtually. I will hold weekly office hours on Zoom (on Mondays 3-4 pm) and will post video lectures and assignments each Tuesday. You are required to complete your post assignments by noon on Mondays.

Here is the Office Hour Zoom Link

Meeting ID: 874 0017 3746
Passcode: 362919

Office Hours Begin on Monday, Aug. 30

I can regularly be reached at: mnoonan@citytech.cuny.edu

Professor Mark Noonan


Here are your duties DUE by next Monday (Aug. 30):

1.  Sign up for your OpenLab account with your name and a profile photo.  Log in, then join our course.  If you need  help,  contact the OpenLab Community Team

2. Look around our course site to familiarize yourself

3. Introduce yourself.  To write a new post, click the + sign at the top of the page. (It’s a small icon next to the class title and message box icon at the very top of the page). Fill in the subject heading with your name, then add your info and photo below.  After your work is complete, scroll down and check off OUR COMMUNITY under Categories (right side of page), then click Publish.

  • Paragraph 1: Include how you would like to be addressed, your pronouns, and any other info you’d like to share. This could include where you are from, where you reside now, your academic interests or major, any hobbies or NYC activities you enjoy, how you feel about beginning college. Feel free to be creative!
  • Paragraph 2:  Include a photo of something (place, space, person, pet, object, etc ) meaningful to you, and tell us about it.  You can paste the photo into the body of your message, or Add Media  to upload it to your post.
  • Before next class, check back to read your classmates’ responses and reply to a few. Getting to know each other, we start building our community.

4. In a separate email (mnoonan@citytech.cuny.edu), please let me know if you have any issues with technology and/or working space that may affect your ability to complete your coursework. 

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