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ELA 11: American Literature—Semester A

My country, 'tis of Shmoop.

Shmoop's ELA 11 course has been granted a-g certification, which means it has met the rigorous iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Courses and will now be honored as part of the requirements for admission into the University of California system.

Shmoop loves Moby-Dick. (Don't judge.) But we don't love torturing you with it. So in this course on American Literature, we're going to do things a little differently. After all, doing things differently is as American as you can get.

Don't worry: you're still going to get your Big Deal Authors. We wouldn't take that away from you. But it's not just about reading the words on the page. We're also going to show you why these Big Deal Authors matter.

In the first semester of our Common Core-aligned American Literature course, we'll walk you through readings, essays, and activities that

  • kick off with the Puritans.
  • transcend with the Transcendentalists.
  • nail down some of the biggest hitters in literature: Poe, Dickinson, and Louisa May Alcott. (Yep, Little Women's on board.)

We dare you to follow the U.S. for two-and-a-half centuries and not leave with a bounce in your step.

P.S. ELA 11: American Literature is a two-semester course. You're looking at Semester A, but you can find Semester B of the course here.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. Colonialism and Exploration 1400 – 1700

This unit will introduce students to American Literature, focusing on the central guiding question, "What makes me 'American'?" The central focus will be on the first Americans, including Native Americans, explorers during the age of colonization, and the Puritans; writing will focus on persuasive strategies and techniques, and will be assessed through persuasive paragraphs with textual support. Plus, we'll answer the most enduring question of all: when did language stop being so old-timey?

Unit 2. Rationalism and Independence: 1700 – 1800

Building upon the ideas introduced in Unit 1, this unit will focus on American seminal texts and rhetoric that involve the split from England and the formation of a new country. Primary documents and letters will support the writing of the time period as well as several significant biographies. Sounds fun? You haven't even met Poor Richard yet.

Unit 3. American Gothic 1800 – 1855

This unit will engage students in an in-depth analysis of American Gothic fiction through themes, plot, suspense, character, setting, and narrative devices. Writing will focus on narrative structure and strategy of the short story and narrative poem, as well as the creative aspect of how to create and organize a narrative in the gothic style. Melville and Hawthorne cameos will prove you don't have to be Poe to be spooky.

Unit 4. Transcendentalism 1830 – 1850

This unit will introduce students to the literary movement of American Transcendentalism, begun by authors such as Emerson and Thoreau and continued by Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. The central focus will be on the tenets of transcendentalism, which include individualism, self-reliance, metacognition, and a focus on Nature. Yep, we capitalized Nature—it's that important to these innovative writers and thinkers.

Unit 5. Abolition and Women’s Rights 1820 – 1920

How can a hyphen or an ellipsis represent years of oppression? This unit will use short stories and literary nonfiction, including seminal texts to examine the historical significance of the abolitionist and women's rights movements. The central focus will be on how argument, rhetoric, and the power of art can advance a cause—because today, women and ethnic minorities totally have it set, right? (…Collar tug.)

Unit 6. Realism 1855 – 1870

This unit focuses on American Realism as a movement in both urban and rural areas. A novel study on Little Women will a focus on social/historical context, as well as provide students with evidence to prove or disprove that they are so the Jo and you are so the Amy. Plus, we'll be analyzing Jacob Riis photos, Civil War-drenched short stories, and the grossest parts of The Jungle—what else could a Shmooper desire?

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 6: Transcending Transcendentalism

Two men overlooking a woodsy scene.
No, we're not going to cut it all down and put up condos! Don't be ridiculous.

Let's get out of the books and into some images. We keep telling ourselves that Transcendentalism isn't just a literary movement—it's a philosophical, social, and artistic movement as well.

There are several artistic movements that have their roots in Transcendentalism, and we're going to look at a few paintings from artists belonging to the Hudson River School in this lesson.

The Hudson River School is an artistic movement during the 1830s and 1840s. The paintings are meant to visually embody the values of Transcendentalism: the centrality of the individual, the divine communion with nature, and the geography of America. These paintings intend to reveal the spirituality of nature to their viewers and communicate the Transcendental belief that nature and man are inherently good.

In Shmoop-speak, Hudson River pics are as socially revealing as the Andy Warhols of the 1960s. You know, the guy who did this portrait of Marilyn Monroe and this soup can. One scenic portrait of nature reveals a thousand words about American values and thoughts.

That's why we want you to pick up your museum tickets and step into the gallery.