Final Essay Assignment (Due Thurs., Dec. 17)

Please complete your final post (listed below this one).

For your final essay (2-3 typed pages), I ask that you focus on an author and work you found particularly interesting. Explain the work’s importance and interest to you as well as its relevance for its time and, perhaps, for today. For example, an essay on Alexander Hamilton could connect to his own background and achievements, while also speaking to the larger story of American immigration and perhaps their treatment today.  I encourage you to work from a previous post or our final post (see below) and to email me regarding any questions you may have about the assignment at:

Upload your essay here. [Double-spaced, 12 font, with a title, an introduction, 3-4 body paragraphs, and a conclusion]. If you get the essay in before the due date, I am happy to review it for you. Please also consider meeting with me on Zoom before the semester ends. It would be excellent to have face time with you if you haven’t joined a meeting yet. It would also be an opportunity for us to discuss your work this semester and for you to ask any additional questions you may have.

Week 16: Final Post Assignment

Hi Everyone,

Thank you for your interesting responses to the “Declaration of Sentiments” and Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman.”  It’s taken a while for these pioneering feminists and Civil Rights activists to get their due but in the past few years, more Americans are recognizing their achievements.  Just this past summer, for example, a statue was placed in NYC’s Central Park in honor of Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

This is my final post assignment for the semester, and I want to introduce three more remarkable men and women who fought to establish the rights of women and the freedom of over 4 million enslaved African Americans: Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman.

Your final post (due Tues., Dec. 15th) is to respond to ONE of these author’s works and/or lives. Your final essay (2-3 pages) could also be an extended discussion of one or more of these figures based on the readings/videos listed below.

In the 1840s, 50s, and 60s, these and other abolitionists galvanized support in the North to end slavery in the South, upon which its entire economy was based. When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1860, the Civil War would soon begin, with northern troops (the Union) fighting southern confederates.  The war ended in 1865, a month before Lincoln was assassinated (April 15, 1865). The Civil War cost over 650,000 lives but succeeded in abolishing slavery forever. 

Key to insuring this freedom were poet Walt Whitman, former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas, and Harriet Tubman, a key figure in the underground railroad, which helped thousands of slaves escape from the south prior to 1865.

Walt Whitman: Brooklyn born Walt Whitman was an important poet, America’s most famous in fact, who celebrated the freedom of each and every American in his celebrated poem “Song of Myself” (1855), later collected in Leaves of Grass.  In addition to his theme of individual freedom and equality across race, class, gender (and even sexuality), Whitman also celebrated Nature, spirituality, and the simple joy of human existence. 

Here is brief biography of his life as well as the opening two stanzas from his famed poem “Song of Myself.”

Frederick Douglass: One of the most famous abolitionists of all was the former slave Frederick Douglass, who wrote a widely read autobiography of his life and experiences.  Here is a brief biography and a video of an actor reading his essay (also review text version): “What to the Slave is the 4th of July” (1852).

In addition to watching the above short videos, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND watching the recent film Harriet based on Harriet Tubman.  It’s an enormously powerful and moving film and will provide a poignant end point to this class, which has focused so much on the long battle for equal rights for all. [It’s on Amazon Prime — please watch if you can].

Week 14: Happy Thanksgiving (11/26) and Native American Heritage Day (11/27)!

It was good to see a number of you at the Extra Credit lecture event featuring Annie Correal.  Here is a link to the event in case you’d still like to view it:

Annie Correal’s “Love and Black Lives, in Pictures Found on a Brooklyn Street.”

Fellow student, Afshan Shariat, wrote an illuminating post on Correal’s importance as a writer, following the event.  He writes:

“The conversation with New York Times journalist Annie Correal was incredibly interesting; I appreciated not only her curiosity in what the found photo album contained, but her determination to follow through and find as much information about the people in the photos as possible. In general, we don’t really get to learn much about the lives of the people who lived in New York, especially the lives of people of color and how they made this city their home. We often only hear stories of gentrification in the news, but not of the triumphs of the communities that came before it, so it was nice to see that Correal felt a sense of responsibility of telling their stories so that they aren’t forgotten, and that they are given a stronger voice to ward off the negative effects of gentrification.”

For the remainder of this course, I’d like to keep the focus on celebrating the work of our intrepid forerunners who helped establish equal rights for all – in a period when these rights were too often the exclusive preserve of white, propertied men.

Accordingly, for our next assignment I want to focus on the rise of the women’s rights movement in America, which began at the Seneca Falls Convention in July of 1848. The meeting launched the women’s suffrage movement, which eventually gave women the right to vote in 1920 (7 decades later!). At this convention was read the “Declaration of Sentiments,” primarily written by Susan B. Anthony, essentially a re-writing of the original “Declaration of Independence,” with the rights of women in mind. 

As you read this document, please choose one of the grievances of gender discrimination that you sometimes still see happening in today’s society.  Alternately, talk about an example of an important gain women HAVE achieved some 175 years later that they did not have in 1848.

Another important figure to speak at a subsequent women’s rights convention was the former slave Sojourner Truth. Truth is considered one of the founders of both the woman’s rights movement and the Civil Rights movement.  As you listen to actor Kerry Washington recite her dramatic speech, think about the particular arguments she makes and the masterful way she works her audience to see her point of view.  

First read: “Ain’t I a Women”

Then, view video below:

Your post (on “Declaration of Sentiments” or Sojourner Truth) is due by Friday, December 5

Also keep in mind, that I am requiring a short final essay from you due Thursday, December 17, our last day of class. For this assignment (3-4 typed pages), I ask that you focus on an author and work you found particularly interesting. Explain the work’s importance and interest to you as well as its relevance for its time and, perhaps, for today. For example, an essay on Alexander Hamilton could connect to his own background and achievements, while also speaking to the larger story of American immigration and perhaps their treatment today.  I encourage you to work from a previous (or upcoming) post and to email me regarding any questions you may have about the assignment at:

Lastly, I want to recommend a wonderful recent film based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women (1868) that was strongly influenced by Emerson’s ideas of self-reliance, as applied to young ladies. Louisa May Alcott was a neighbor of and great friends with Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Emerson. It’s a heart-warming film to watch over the holidays, directed by the enormously talented Greta Gerwig.

Use this week to catch up on late/missing posts. Attend Annie Correal’s Lecture this Thursday 11/19 (1-2:15) for Extra Credit!

  1. Hi Everyone: Be sure to catch up with any missing/late work this week. We will begin our discussion of the Woman’s Rights Movement next week. I am offering EXTRA CREDIT, however, for reading Annie Correal’s “Love and Black Lives, in Pictures Found on a Brooklyn Street” and attending her Zoom lecture this Thursday 11/19 (1-2:15 pm). Correal is a New York Times author who will be speaking to City Tech students about writing her essay and her job as a journalist.  I will give you EXTRA CREDIT if you post your thoughts on the event (BELOW). The event is being organized and hosted by Professor Caroline Hellman and promises to be both lively and informative.


DATE AND TIME:  Thursday, November 19, at 1:00

Please join us for New York Times journalist Annie Correal’s visit with the City Tech community. Correal will be discussing her trajectory as a writer and the story behind her 2017 article “Love and Black Lives, in Pictures Found on a Brooklyn Street.”   

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 811 4776 3239
Passcode: 680059
One tap mobile
+16465588656,,81147763239#,,,,,,0#,,680059# US (New York)

Week 12: Joe Biden/Kamala Harris Have Been Elected!

Hi Students,

So we have a winner and a new President! Especially historic is our first female Vice President: Kamala Harris!!!  In two weeks, we will be discussing the woman’s rights movement (alongside the Civil Rights movement) that helped pave the way for this and so many other “glass ceilings” to finally be broken.  Here is an excerpt of her inspiring acceptance speech for you to enjoy in the meantime.

I also want to point out your excellent work responding to Emerson’s influential essays “Self-Reliance” and the “American Scholar.”  Many of you gave fascinating examples of the importance of thinking for ourselves as well as the challenges we often face in trying to do just that.

For next week, I ask that you read the work of his equally famous disciple Henry David Thoreau, who took “self-reliance” to a whole new level.  In 1845, influenced by Emerson, Thoreau built a simple cabin in the woods near Walden Pond and lived there for two years.  His aim was to get away from the pressures of society and “live deliberately” and truly find himself. The result of his remarkable experiment was published in Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854).  It was at Walden Pond that Thoreau also wrote his famous political essay about resisting the government when it acts immorally.  This essay is called “Civil Disobedience” and has had a massive influence on passive resisters and protest movements including Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and the heroic participants of the recent Black Lives Matter.  I ask that you

  1. Watch an interesting recent video on Thoreau filmed at Walden Pond
  2. Read “Where I Live and What I Lived For” (Chapter 2) from Walden

3. Read excerpts from  Civil Disobedience

4. Post a response to either “Walden,” “Civil Disobedience,” or the Walden documentary.

Keep up the great work.

Week 11: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Transcendentalism, and The American Renaissance

Please watch my video lecture first:

By Monday, Nov. 9, please read two essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

  1. “Self-Reliance”,
  2. Excerpts from “The American Scholar”

Post a response to one passage (or quote) from each essay. In your post, include an example in society, or from your own experiences, that connects to Emerson’s ideas. Be sure to read the posts of students before you and try to choose a passage that has not been written on. Have fun with these rich and thoughtful essays.

Week 10: Happy Halloween!

Dear American Literature Students. We are slightly past the midway point of the semester and I want to commend you for your excellent weekly posts thus far. I have posted mid-term grades which can be found in the OpenLab Gradebook on the right side of our site homepage (when you click on Check Your Grade, only your grades will be visible to you, when you are logged in).

The possible midterm grades are as follows: P (Passing), BL (Boderline), U (Unsatisfactory/Failing).  The midterm grade does not get recorded on your transcript in any way; it is more just to let you know how you are doing in the class thus far. Every professor should be giving you a midterm grade by 10/30.

Instead of your first formal essay, I am also giving you a grade for the collective work you’ve done so far on your posts. For this class, I will only require one formal essay (4-5 typed pages) on an author and topic of your choice based on material we’ve covered in this class. This essay will be due at the end of the semester but I want you to choose a topic in the next two weeks.


In celebration of our haunted week, I want to introduce you to one of America’s most famous writers, best known for his horror stories that have influenced fiction and film into the present: Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was America’s first successful author and part of a larger school of artists, writers, and philosophers known as The American Renaissance (or rebirth of literature). For the remainder of the semester, we will be reading authors from this school which include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman. All of these authors were ground-breaking for their originality, wild imagination, and general brilliance.

Here is brief biography of Edgar Allan Poe:

For this week’s assignment, I ask you to:

Read: Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart”

Listen:  Poe’s “The Raven”

and then [if you can]

View: Stephen King’s 1922 (film) [On Netflix].

WARNING: This film is somewhat violent and has some gory scenes. No need to view this film if you do not like horror films of this kind.

Of particular interest is that King’s film is based on the same premise

of “The Tell-Tale Heart” but changed in terms of setting, length, and film format.

The modern horror writer Stephen King was a big fan of Poe and heavily

influenced by him.

Please post a response to your thoughts on the poem, story, and/or film.

Week 9 Activities (post due, Monday, Oct. 26)

Welcome back students to week 9. Many of you did a fine job discussing the hypocrisy of our “Declaration of Independence,” especially in regards to the treatment of African Americans. Even though America gained its independence after a grueling 8 year war with England in 1783, our now “free” country continued to permit slavery in the southern states (the northern states began to free slaves one by one — New York emancipation occurred in 1827). While America began as an independent nation, it still needed a strong government, however. In 1787, delegates from the original 13 states met in secret and produced The Constitution. Over the next few years, the states debated whether to accept this document as the framework of a new government. It was finally passed, after including the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments), in 1789.

A major architect of the Constitution was Alexander Hamilton, whose face graces our 10 dollar bill. In 2015 Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and produced an extraordinary musical based on Hamilton’s life. The show was sold out on Broadway for years. Just last month, Disney has put out a film version of the Broadway production (which I encourage you watch). Below is an hour and 1/2 documentary called “Hamilton’s America” produced by Miranda in which he discusses his own life, the production of the Hamilton Musical, and the life of Alexander Hamilton. I ask that you watch the video and comment on a part that interested you the most. Enjoy!

Week 8 Activities

Hi Students:

Happy Indigenous People’s Day! 

Some call today Columbus Day but more and more, many Americans are honoring the Native Americans who were here before the Italian explorer sailed the “ocean blue” in 1492.  Here is a statement from Joe Biden, Democratic Candidate for President:

“On this Indigenous People’s Day, we must both recognize the past that has brought us here, and commit to one another to write a new future of promise, partnership, and equal opportunity for the proud Tribal Nations of our country.”

In other interesting news, the Mexican Government has asked both the nation of Spain and the Catholic Church to apologize for their roles in the Spanish Conquest.

Read the article HERE

As we continue our readings on Benjamin Franklin and the American Enlightenment, another controversy emerges: when should we date the start of our country?  Should it be 1776, the date of the Declaration of Independence?  Or should it be 1619, the date the first 20 African slaves were sold to the colony of Jamestown in Virginia?

The New York Times has produced the 1619 project that argues that all Americans need to be more aware of the horrors of slavery that accompanied America’s birth as a new nation in 1776.

  1. Please listen to the first 20 minutes of this podcast by Nikole Hannah-Jones to get you thinking more about his topic. HERE
  2. Read the opening paragraphs to the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776). Written by Thomas Jefferson (and edited by Benjamin Franklin), this document declares that the 13 colonies of America will no longer be subjects of the British Empire:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. 

(The remainder of the Declaration lists these grievances).

3) Read about America’s first published poet, Philliss Wheatley (and her poem “On Being Brought From Africa to America”) HERE

4) Read The Autobiography of Venture Smith HERE

5) Post a comment in response to one of these readings and/or podcasts. Due: Saturday, Oct. 17.


View Video Lecture First:

View: Biography of Benjamin Franklin

Read:  These chapters from Ben Franklin’s Autobiography:

I.Ancestry and Early Life in Boston3
II.Beginning Life as a Printer21
III.Arrival in Philadelphia41
IX.Plan for Attaining Moral Perfection146
X.Poor Richard’s Almanac and Other Activities169
XIII.Public Services and Duties217
XVIII.Scientific Experiments289
Electrical Kite327
The Way to Wealth331



WEEK 6 ACTIVITIES (Monday Holiday/Tuesday follows Monday Classes)

Great work on last week’s posts students. Keep in mind that today is a holiday and tomorrow (Tuesday) follows your Monday schedule. As such, I will not hold office hours tomorrow.

Ruth Ginsburg’s Lace Collar

For next week, keep reading The Scarlet Letter and watch the film version (and hopefully the RBG documetary). I also ask that you read the article below on Ruther Bader Ginsburg’s Lace Collar. Keep in mind that Hester Prynne’s Red Letter (“A”) is made of lace and that Hester makes a living sewing lace clothes for the ministers and community (they hate her but still buy her products!!!). Think more about the strength and importance of this fabric. Like Hester’s scarlet “A” it is a great example of “symbolism.” Also try to connect Hester Prynne’s strong will and character to Ruther Bader Ginsburg. I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Read : 1) from Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850):

                Chapters XVI (“A Forest Walk”) and XVII (“The Pastor and the                      

                Parishioner”) (pages 231-245)

           2) “Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Lace Collar”

View:  1) The Scarlet Letter (Film 1995)  [On Amazon Prime] SIGN UP FOR A STUDENT VERSION OF AMAZON PRIOME FOR 1/2 PRICE FILMS!!!!


2) The Notorious RBG (A Documentary on the Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg)

Post:  Post a response to one of the chapters from The Scarlet Letter (XVI or XVII) and the film version of novel OR the RBG documentary.


WEEK FIVE ACTIVITIES (Post Due: Saturday, Sept. 26)

Video Lecture (WATCH FIRST)

Read (For This Week): 1) Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850)

                Chapters 1-5 (pages 51-90)

           2) “We Clerked for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Nothing Stopped Her From

Speaking Up”

View (By NEXT WEEK):  1) The Scarlet Letter (Film 1995)  [On Amazon Prime] SIGN UP FOR A STUDENT VERSION OF AMAZON PRIOME FOR 1/2 PRICE FILMS!!!!

Here is the trailer:


2) The Notorious RBG (A Documentary on the Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg)

Here is the Trailer:

Post:  Respond to a passage from one of the first 5 chapters of The Scarlet Letter.  For the following week’s assignment, respond to a scene from either the film (The Scarlet Letter) or (RBG). 

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)



View:  The Pilgrims  (PBS FILM)    WATCH ALL OF THE 5  CLIPS

Read: William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation (1650)




Here is the full web-site of “OUR STORY” (Watch all the Clips which concern the Wampanoag Tribe, which the Pilgrims first encountered and who have survived)




DUTCH NEW YORK (known as “New Netherland” from 1609-1664)

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

2. View Documentary on Henry Hudson

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

4. View: Documentary on Washington Irving

5. Read: Washington Irving “Rip Van Winkle”  (1819)


POST A RESPONSE to 1) “Rip Van Winkle” AND 2) Eric Sanderson, Henry Hudson, OR Jacob Steendam

Your response to the story “Rip Van Winkle” should include a quote or passage that you are referring to. Consider discussing 1) the main character, his wife and family, 2) the setting (time and place of action), 3) the use of humor, 4) a particularly descriptive/enjoyable passage, 5) the theme or larger meaning of the tale.

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