Writing Early America: Literature to 1800 (Q3169)

15 credits, Level 4

Autumn teaching

This module will introduce you to the major trends and texts of colonial America from the Iroquois Indians and Christopher Columbus through to Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine. These are not simply 'authors,' in the modern sense, writing 'great books' but diverse voices whose class, gender, race, nationality and religious persuasion influence the sense they make of America, and of themselves, in their writing. For example, some texts articulate ancient native traditions and myths without the benefit of a written tradition, while others are trying to come to terms in literary ways with experiences of migration to an unknown and wild place, captivity by the Indians, conflict, and slavery. Questions of national identity and the role that literature plays in constructing and communicating an 'American experience' are therefore central to the module.

We will look at the writing of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, beginning with Native American accounts of creation, the travel journals of Columbus, and an account of the conquest of the Aztec empire. American literature in this early period does not come in the usual forms of fiction, poetry, and drama that we are used to studying in European literature, nor is all of it written in English. We will be reading a variety of forms, such as Native American stories, accounts of conquest in South America and settlement in the English colonies, Puritan sermons, autobiography, political tracts, captivity narratives, poetry, and letterssome in translation, others in their original English. While these texts are not all recognisably what you might think of as 'literature,' they are the founding documents and genres of the Americas and their influence is felt in American culture to the present day.


100%: Seminar


100%: Coursework (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 150 hours of work. This breaks down into about 22 hours of contact time and about 128 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2024/25. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to feedback, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let you know of any material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: