Becoming America: An Exploration of American Literature from Precolonial to Post-Revolution
Wendy Kurant, University of North Georgia
Copyright Year: 2018
ISBN 13: 9781940771465
Publisher: University of North Georgia Press
Conditions of Use
As an example, in the study of the romantics and transcendentalists, Kurant offers valuable context when discussing westward expansion, displacement of Native peoples, and war with Mexico. The author also covers the Industrial Revolution,... read more
As an example, in the study of the romantics and transcendentalists, Kurant offers valuable context when discussing westward expansion, displacement of Native peoples, and war with Mexico. The author also covers the Industrial Revolution, immigration, tensions over slavery, other political concerns, and social reforms as parts of the environment in which the romantics existed. In the selection of authors and works, Kurant offers a variety of mode (fiction, exposition, poetry, and drama) as well as sampling from the great variety of humanity, rather than limiting students to the classical cannon of authors. While those authors do still appear, they seem to be in much more diverse company here.
I found no errors in accuracy.
Continuing Kurant's trend of bringing further context to the selections, the Revolutionary and Early National Period section begins with a discussion of the French American war and the role of Native Americans in that conflict, giving students the opportunity to see the new nation as one whose existence, long prior to its nationhood, was constantly contended by various entities, rather than one where a war for independence sprang up from nothing more than frustration over taxes. It seems very relevant, in these times, to be aware that contention has always been America's lot.
As an example, the sections covering the European explorers and early settlers seem to be from a broad spectrum, though perhaps it is only their introductions that make them seem so. However, there are selections from the explorations of the New Netherlands and from other non-Puritan settlers.. Kurant also makes more clear the interactions between various groups of settlers, rather than allowing students to acquire the impression that they were a homogeny.
I found no inconsistencies. In fact, I find this text to be more consistent with the varied nature of American Literature. For example, I always begin my American Lit I course with a discussion of the Native American literature and have always angled toward correcting for the oversights in the textbook that I use, but that is much less of an issue with this text. Not only does Kurant do a much better job of introducing the topic and its impossible-to-cover scope and complexity, but the author also includes examples from groups of Native Americans who may actually have encountered European explorers and early settlers where they lived in the eastern part of the continent. The author consistently brings this methodology to bear throughout the text.
Though I did not truly consider this as I was perusing the text, it did seem to me that some sections were significantly longer, perhaps over weighted. And selections from some authors may have be a bit lengthy as well.
Chronological and grouped by historical era. No problems here.
Very user friendly. There are live links to material sourced elsewhere, a tactic which seems to expand the text's scope and relevance.
I did not notice errors.
This section also covers Enlightenment, of course, and offers a broad range of selections from the founding fathers and others. We also hear from female authors, black authors, and even Native American authors, serving to provide students with a picture of American literature that interweaves all voices. Kurant carries this methodology throughout the text, placing authors who have had less voice right in the midst of more traditional selections, rather than confining them to their own sections.
I hope to be able to replace the traditional textbook used in my courses with this more economical and well-integrated textbook. Its organization will make the transition easier for me and I am certain that students will appreciate the move.
The textbook can be considered comprehensive in terms of its coverage of the most traditionally canonical texts of Early American literature from an Anglo-American, New England-centered perspective. It contains a smaller number of authors than... read more
The textbook can be considered comprehensive in terms of its coverage of the most traditionally canonical texts of Early American literature from an Anglo-American, New England-centered perspective. It contains a smaller number of authors than other anthologies like the Norton or Bedford, it contains longer excerpts of texts. There are a few Native American texts, especially a set of origin stories folk tales and recorded accounts at the very beginning. African American texts are the most canonical only (Phillis Wheatley, Frederic Douglas, etc.), without any of the more recently recovered early African American authors. What appears especially lacking is a more robust account of Spanish America, considering the textbooks focus on Early American literature. The framework of viewing American literature through a teleology of "Becoming America" leaves out much literature that does not fit in to the narrative of U.S. nationhood. Beyond Columbus and Cabeza de Vaca, significant Spanish American literature is missing, including other expeditions, the writing of Spanish missions, or regional literature like Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá's epic poem of New Mexico. Similarly the textbook leaves out literature important to the U.S.-Mexico War or U.S. colonial expansion, though it includes literature up to the 1860s. One surprising omission considering the inclusion of most canonical Anglo-American literature is the absence of Cotton Mather's writing. The textbook does provide a good account of early-American Anglo settlers and an adequate selection of Native American texts from the early British colonial and early U.S. republic. It is impressive that a single editor created this collection of over 1500 pages with extensive head notes, thoughtful reading questions for each text, and paired open access images of art, photos, and maps to accompany the texts with far fewer resources that a big publishing house like Norton or Bedford. The textbook would make a good foundation for a college literature class with some significant supplementation from a professor or teacher.
The textbook is factually accurate. As a depiction of early American life and letters, it is less accurate in that it over represents "great men" or "founding fathers" with less emphasis on literary and cultural production outside of New England. Notes on the textual history of works are also sometimes missing, and the textbook does not clarify which editions are used for the textbook's excerpts.
The book focuses on the more traditionally canonical works of literature, and is thus not at the forefront of literary analysis and the evolving canon. It follows a meta-narrative of U.S. national development that was codified in early 1940s American literary studies. The book does include more women's voices, but it does not depict the complexity and heterogeneity of American culture and life in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century. The canonical works are still relevant but they wold be better paired with other texts and read in new ways that Becoming America does provide.
The introduction and head notes are written in clear prose. Some of the historical context is dry and dense, especially references to theological paridigms of the early colonial period. More importantly, readers may miss the annotations that are present in print anthologies.
The format is consistent throughout the textbook. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this textbook are the reading questions at the end of each section. These questions adeptly balance reading comprehension and literary analysis. I could imagine using these questions as discussion prompts. The decimal point organization is also helpful for navigating the long PDF.
This book can and should be used modularly. It would be very easy to teach some sections or rearrange the material to the instructor's liking. An instructor could even have students read a single excerpted literary work or contextualizing head note. I regularly teach online courses and could imagine pulling specific sections from Becoming America.
The textbook begins with historical organization of early and later colonial literature and revolutionary literature than shift to generic categories of romanticism and transcendentalism in a way that elides the historical events of the early 19th century, namely U.S. expansion and the succession of the South. Texts are presented chronologically except for the Native American collection in Part One, which, like most textbooks, are presented as timeless origin stories( though the editor thankfully clarifies that they were recorded at various points)
The textbook is a standard PDF. The table of contents is very clear. It lacks an index, which is unnecessary because the text is searchable. The table of contents could be improved through anchored links that would allow readers to jump to a sectionfrom the tabel of contents rather than having to scroll through hundreds of pages to get to the desired section.
The writing was very clear and free of grammatical errors.
The cultural representation is outmoded, particularly in terms of African American and Latina/o inclusion. There is almost no writing recovered in the last twenty years written by Black or Latina/o/x authors. The Native American texts included in this textbook are more in line with contemporary scholarship, for example the letter from Cherokee women to Benjamin Franklin is a nice example of Native American Women's writing which is not always available in literary anthologies. However, the textbook's omission of Indian Removal is unacceptable.
In the first section, there is a nod to Native American accounts, including creation stories and accounts of contact with settlers/colonists, but these tales only make up about 25% of this first section, placing the priority on “discovery”... read more
In the first section, there is a nod to Native American accounts, including creation stories and accounts of contact with settlers/colonists, but these tales only make up about 25% of this first section, placing the priority on “discovery” narratives. Fewer discussion questions are provided for the Native American accounts, as well: only five questions for all of the presented stories, whereas each individual piece that follows has as many questions. There are many accounts by white people about people of color; instead, including more voices of color would make this a more comprehensive text. More attention should be paid to America’s founding on genocide, slavery, and settler-colonialism for students to engage more critically with our nation’s past (and present). There is no index, though the Table of Contents is comprehensive.
“Becoming American” during this time period largely meant becoming white male American, as other people were denied citizenship. Though other voices are included, the text is overwhelmingly white and male. More women’s voices are represented as the text moves chronologically to the Romantic period. However, resisting a traditional canon of American literature would have more writings from women and people of color who participated in or resisted “becoming American.” Shorter excerpts from some authors could be presented to make room for more diverse accounts.
The literature presented is of course relevant and does not go out of date. The text is designed in a simple format that should be easy to update if additional materials are added. If the text is already 1,500 pages, why not make it 2,000 to include literature from more voices?
Some sentences in the introductory materials and learning outcomes are vague or otherwise unclear, but these sections provide useful overviews that should be supplemented with content in lectures to place each author in context.
The format of the text is consistent, but definitions of time periods that frame each section are missing.
It would be easy to divide the text by section or by author; creating individual PDFs for each author you want to assign would probably be best, rather than presenting students with the full PDF, which could be overwhelming. It would be helpful to have authors and texts listed in the page headers; instead, only the title of the anthology is listed there, so it is hard to know where in the text you are without navigating back to the subject header.
Organization is chronological, which works fine.
The headings and organization are clear, but the links in the Table of Contents do not work, and just bring you back to the first page of the PDF. There are some hyperlinks throughout the text; the ones I clicked on did work, but may not always be available. These hyperlinks seem more useful for instructors to assign separately than to expect students to access and read while using the textbook. It would also be helpful if new sections started on new pages for instructors who want to split desired sections into separate PDFs for students; as it is, new sections often start in the middle of a page.
There are minimal errors.
For a text of this length (more than 1,500 pages), I wish there were a greater diversity of voices included; especially since much of this work is freely available online elsewhere or has already been anthologized, a textbook of this nature could have included less canonized voices to create a fuller picture of American literature.
The anthology is comparable to the first volume of the Shorter Ninth Edition of "The Norton Anthology of American Literature", which is the text I use when teaching survey courses of American literature through 1865. Both textbooks include... read more
The anthology is comparable to the first volume of the Shorter Ninth Edition of "The Norton Anthology of American Literature", which is the text I use when teaching survey courses of American literature through 1865. Both textbooks include authors from the earliest contacts between Native Americans and European colonizers through American writers of the mid-nineteenth century. In general, the typically anthologized texts for each author are included in "Becoming America", and in most cases, there are multiple texts by the authors, which can give instructors more options for assignments. There is a good inclusion of nonfiction (which usually dominates anthologies covering these centuries in American literature), fiction, poetry, and one play: Royall Tyler's eighteenth-century play "The Contrast". One concern is that in four cases (Edwards, Occom, Tecumseh, and various Native American texts), the anthology does not include the texts, but links to them. This is unexpected and may cause difficulties for students who have limited Internet access. Very helpful are the sets of questions after each collection of texts by the same author. Such questions can prove useful for small assignments or in-class writing to generate class discussion and develop essays. Most biographies are accompanied by public-domain pictures of the authors. Students have shared with me that they enjoy seeing the authors of the texts they read, so these illustrations are helpful aids.
The introductory commentary for each section, as well as brief biographies of the authors, are even-handed.
The selection of authors allows for multiple perspectives. Because the anthology follows the traditional chronological order of literature anthologies, the commentaries at the start of each section, the brief biographies of authors, and the texts by those authors can easily be supplemented, revised, or replaced as need be.
The commentaries and brief biographies are written in clear, twenty-first-century language, so that students who are unfamiliar with the lives and times of the authors may easily gain some context as needed before class discussion. Students who are not experienced with the grammar and style of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries may need some preparation for author texts from these periods (as is the case with all anthologies including older texts). One concern regards some of the nonfiction texts from the seventeenth century and earlier: they are provided with the original spelling, which allows for an authentic reading experience, but may prove difficult for students to follow. Modernized spelling of these texts would be very valuable.
The sections of the book provide logical and traditional divisions of American literature through the middle of the nineteenth century, but it would be helpful to provide date ranges as part of the title of each section so that students may have a stronger sense of when the literature included in each section was written.
As a literature anthology, the text is divided into historical sections, each of which includes a statement of learning outcomes, followed by an introductory commentary, and then subsections on the included authors (brief biographies followed by texts). Headings are regularly included.
The anthology has adopted the decimal system of headings which is more common for textbooks in the sciences and social sciences, so that an author text might be given a number such as 1.3.1 (section 1, subsection 3, author text 1). Such numbering implies that each author text is the continuation of a general argument or analysis made in the entire textbook rather than the next included reading. It would be better to remove such numbering. In addition, the top of each page notes only the titles of the anthology and of the section. It would be very helpful on alternate pages to list the author and title of work on those pages so that students may better scan ahead to plan how much time to devote to reading an assignment.
The anthology was viewed via the Preview feature on an Apple laptop computer. Although there were no links from the table of contents to the start of each text, it was possible to search for words (such as names of authors and titles of works) to find the needed parts of the anthology.
Save for the occasional typographical error, there were no errors--certainly, none which caused confusion.
Not including anonymous authors, approximately one-third of the authors in the anthology (19 of 61) are women. African American authors include Equiano, Wheatley, Walker, Jacobs, Harper, and Douglass. Native American authors include Occom, Apess, Cherokee women, and various anonymous authors of Native American texts.
I would consider this book as a suitable replacement for the Norton Anthology, especially when there are few used copies of the current edition of the Norton Anthology available.
This anthology offers a huge number of selections. 1500 pages is a lot of material; but this is also a huge period and difficult to contain in any anthology. It was also notable that it included an example of drama -- Royall Tyler's The Contrast.... read more
This anthology offers a huge number of selections. 1500 pages is a lot of material; but this is also a huge period and difficult to contain in any anthology.
It was also notable that it included an example of drama -- Royall Tyler's The Contrast. This is an interesting selection, and drama is largely overlooked in most anthologies.
It does not have an index or glossary.
It sometimes leaves out important things; for instance, in the introduction to section 4, the text explains "By the second decade of the nineteenth century, the United States of America had survived the War of 1812" but there has been no mention of the War of 1812 anywhere in the text prior to this.
The rise of Realism is barely touched on -- with the exception of Davis at the end.
There seems to be a lot of praising of famous men. Jefferson and Jackson get quite a bit of celebration, with very little about their very problematic actions. Of Columbus, it notes "Although he hoped to bring peace..." -- where's the evidence of Columbus wanting peace exactly?
There are about a dozen selections that are not actually included in the text, but are URLs to outside sites. At least one of these links is already broken, and others likely will be as well. The chosen links are quite curious and no explanation is given as to why these particular links are reliable or why these versions/editions were chosen.
The writing in the intro sections seems clear for the most part.
I like the questions provided at the end of each reading.
It could use greater clarity about the timeline -- what are the dates for the individual sections, and why are the pieces arranged in the order they appear? This should be made explicit somewhere.
The learning outcomes focus heavily on historical matters more than on literary aspects, which is somewhat curious.
Each large section has "Learning Outcomes" and each author has a set of "Reading and Review Questions." This is provided consistently throughout.
The readings that are provided in URLs are very inconsistent. They all go to different sources of widely different authority. A couple link to highly regarded digital editions (the Samuel Occom one for instance links to an excellent scholarly edition with scanned originals) while others link to "all poetry.com" and "poetry nook.com," sources that are really random.
There is one very odd moment -- the introductory material on Edgar Allan Poe notes that it was "Written by Corey Parson," who is also listed as providing the cover and layout design. No other sections have any attribution to anyone else. It's just odd.
It's not clear why some authors have many more selections than others. Melville, for instance seems really over-represented here.
If you wanted to teach one of the four block sections, it would be relatively easy to excise that one section.
But if you wanted to teach portions from throughout this large anthology, it's not clear how you would do that. One thing that would make it easier would be to have a hard page break at the end of each individual piece and individual author. That is not the case here, so it will take some work to cut and past sections together.
The lack of navigation links also makes modularity difficult (see Interface comments).
From the start, I do wish that the organizational choices could be made more clear and explicit to the reader; I'm left to guess at why choices were made.
There are four very large sections, including:
1. Pre-and early Colonial Literature
2. 17th century English Colonial Literature
3. Revolutionary and Early National Literature
4. Nineteenth Century Romanticism and Transcendentalism
No dates are provided, so it's not clear why these breaks were chosen or around what specific dates they center. Likewise, the organization within those sections is unclear. Thematic clusters might make sense, but it's not clear that that is what is happening here.
Organizational scheme should be made more explicit.
This is a huge book -- over 1500 pages -- but it has no navigation features. At the very least, it should have a hyperlinked table of contents, but if you click on anything in the TOC, it takes you back to the title page.
I downloaded the PDF and opened it in Acrobat, and there appear to be "bookmarks" for each section, but those bookmarks do not work; clicking on them doesn't take you anywhere. This is a serious problem in a book of this length.
If you're reading in a browser, and you follow the links to any of the hyperlinked readings, when you come back, you go to the title page, which again is really frustrating. For an ebook, it is lacking in many of the benefits that ought to come with the ebook format.
Grammar seems clear throughout.
There is considerable diversity in the readings in terms of authorship and variety of time period and perspectives represented. In the introductory material, the author refers to "slaves" when I think at this point, using "enslaved people" (or "enslaved [specific identity]") would be more appropriate and is generally preferred. There are a lot of Native American readings, which is great, but many of them are provided through links to outside sources. There should be greater explanation of why these particular versions were chosen (and why they weren't integrated into the text, as the majority of other readings are). In general, there should be more explanation of why a particular source/version is used; this is especially important in these Native American traditional pieces, but this would actually be valuable throughout.
The use of images in this text is very problematic. All the images are cited as coming from open source (mostly Wikicommons) which is fine, but there needs to be more information about those images. They appear to be just dropped in for no real reason. One of the first and most egregious examples is "Image 1.2 | Wampum Belt Commemorating the Iroquis Confederacy." There is no mention of wampum anywhere in the text -- why is this image just thrown in here? The image itself is of terrible quality and there is no information about where it's from (a quick google search told me it's from a Popular Science magazine, a very odd choice).
"Image 1.7 | Thomas Harriot" is actually notoriously questionable – almost all mentions of it that appear online suggest that it is unconfirmed whether it’s him. The other image for this section -- “Thomas Harriot at Syon Park” -- doesn’t even mention when or where it was made, only that is on a “free art license” – why is this here? It seems incredibly random.
The John Smith section includes a portrait of John Smith and of Pocahontas, but with no context or explanation about those images and why they are important.
In early instances, there are maps dropped in without context or explanation. For instance, A map of Cabeza de Vaca’s route doesn't even include “the island of Malhado,” which is what the reading assignment is specifically about.
In the Rebecca Hardin Davis section, there’s an image of her, but then “Housing in a Mills Factory in Alabama, 1910 Photographer | Lewis Wickes Hine." Both the date and location of the image are completely unrelated to Davis's work.
The quality of the reproductions is poor (worst example: "Image 1.1 | Flag of the Wabanaki Confederacy") and the choice of images is very confusing. I would recommend that images be removed completely rather than have these completely decontextualized random ones.
One of the key issues here is the odd overarching narrative of the volume: it tells a history of ideology and nation building (“Becoming American”) that follows historical chronology, somewhat oddly centered around the Declaration of Independence... read more
One of the key issues here is the odd overarching narrative of the volume: it tells a history of ideology and nation building (“Becoming American”) that follows historical chronology, somewhat oddly centered around the Declaration of Independence (“Precolonial to Post-Revolution”). Instead of confronting this narrative and critically engaging with it, its assumptions seem to subconsciously creep into every section of the collection. While the selection of texts shows clear awareness of discussions around the problems of the canon and does a laudable job at including suppressed or neglected voices (pre-Columbian creation stories, literature by enslaved persons, popular American women’s writers), its overarching focus on “the nation” (naturalized via the somewhat gaudy photo on the cover) structurally distorts the intents of many authors in this text. In the overarching narrative of the book, pre-colonial Native myths are participating in a discourse on American nationhood alongside British subjects and enslaved captives. All of these, it seems, can’t wait to “become American.” Once the narrative of literary nationhood really takes off, the American North-East, especially New England, figures as a stand-in for the nation. This is especially jarring in the nineteenth-century section that does not incorporate a single text from the American South. Lincoln’s speeches (or the Cornerstone speech), too, are oddly absent here—as is the Civil War itself. Perhaps, the volume sees itself as concluding prior to this period: why, then include Civil War poetry by Whitman and Melville and reference the conflict in study questions? Why is the American West entirely absent? (“The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta”?). Another issue with the selection of texts is turning the build-up to the Civil War into an “on-going moral argument[…] about slavery” (720) to the exclusion of slave revolts (no mention of Nat Turner, nor any reference to his “Confessions”) and John Brown (only opaquely referenced by the editor as having performed an “anti-slavery attack on Harper’s Ferry,” and mentioned in a Melville poem). The narrow national focus also ignores crucial historical contexts: Why have students read “Benito Cereno” and not mention the Haitian Revolution at all? Why make the sentimentalist complaint the only other mode of critique of slavery alongside biographical accounts by former enslaved persons? For a text so interested in religious movements and American exceptionalism, the absence of any reference to Mormonism or Joseph Smith is mindboggling, as well.
The collection’s narrow focus on American literary nation building leads the editor in a number of odd statements. “America’s economic and technological growth also continued apace as America became the center of the second Industrial Revolution,” the editor observes at one point, suggesting said second industrial revolution was a phenomenon of the antebellum period and suggesting that the US was indeed a leading, industrialized country by mid-century. That is flatly false. While the pace of industrialization was astounding, the US was still trailing all major nations in almost every measure of industrial performance—and the “second industrial revolution” is generally considered a turn-of-the-twentieth-century development—not, as the editor claims an event taking place “in the early to mid—nineteenth century.”
Andrew Jackson is introduced as a common man and a “former war hero”—without any suggestion that said heroism was largely built around genocide (“war hero” is not in quotation marks or qualified in any way in the editorial introduction). The “Trail of Tears” is also framed as perpetrated by “American and European” settlers—without any reference to the Indian Removal Act, Jackson’s involvement, or any legislation on a national or state level. Indeed, the very next sentence talks about “American emigrants to the Mexican territory of Texas,” suggesting that Indian Removal (framed as “forced relocations” without any mention of the human cost or ANY loss of life) fits into emigration patterns, not “Jacksonian Democracy” (as celebrated in a different part of the editorial introduction). No critical word is uttered on Jackson in the whole volume. Indeed, the editor makes sure to point out that “numerous social reform movements paralleled the democratic reforms of the Jacksonian era,” suggesting a reading of Jackson as a fundamentally progressive actor.
Textual fidelity is also lacking. Certain texts (like Whitman’s or Dickinson’s) are given without dates, letting their works flow vaguely through biographical time. For a poet of revisions like Whitman, this is a fatal error. What is provided here is the 1881/1892 version of “Song of Myself,” for instance, but with the famous missing final period of the 1855 edition (an entirely meaningless printing error, as scholarship has shown). The poem as printed here is not historical.
Dickinson’s poems are provided in the 1955 Johnson transcription (with long dashes), not the more relevant Franklin edition. This would require at least some explanation—or perhaps at least a quick image to illustrate what Dickinson’s manuscripts looked like. Neither is given. Dickinson’s again-giant dashes just hang there, unacknowledged, waiting for confused students to overinterpret them.
Dickinson and Whitman also serve to illustrate another issue with the collection: it remixes author bios from Writing the Nation: A Concise Introduction to American Literature 1865 to Present that are so limited that they become outright misleading. Let’s take this characterization of Whitman:
“Much of Whitman’s success and endurance as a poet comes from his ability to marry embedded cultural forms to the needs of a growing and rapidly modernizing nation. Whitman first came to wide public attention with the publication of the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855 when he was just twenty-five years old. Grand in scope if not in size, the first edition established Whitman as a poet who loved wordplay and common images”
1. Whitman’s initial 1855 printing was NOT a literary success. Success came via English editions in the 1860s. The 1855 edition was a hand-printed pamphlet that sat on shelves, thought it did garner some really harsh reviews. Essentially, only Emerson enjoyed it and wrote a letter to that extent to Whitman (why not mention that?).
2. What “embedded cultural forms” are referenced here? Most people at the time (including Emerson) did not consider this “poetry.” It may reference newspaper culture—but if so, why not say that?
3. The 1855 edition WAS “grand” in “size.” It was printed on comically oversized legal paper. It was THIN—but certainly big. Much too big to fit in everyone’s pocket (as Whitman hoped).
4. A “poet who loved wordplay and common images”? That’s perhaps the most uninspired description of Whitman I can imagine.
What the section leaves out—completely—is Whitman own sexuality, his interest in sexual liberation and sexual politics/poetics. Instead, the foreword goes out of its way to make Whitman as stuffy as possible. And what message would you be sending to your students, if you have them read America’s great queer poet in an edition that refuses to even suggest he wasn’t straight?
What makes the anthology at hand even worse is that it includes this sentence: “In the final selection from Whitman, we see Whitman rising as a national poet with “O Captain! My Captain!”. It should be noted that the editor decided not to include “O Captain!”, but didn’t bother to either write a better introduction or delete this sentence. Or to just copy Wikipedia, which is much more accurate.
Other author bios are similarly trite: Dickinson reverts back to being an isolated spinster (and, by default, super straight, too), Moby Dick now echoes every high schooler’s book report by “exploring the mysteries of human nature,” and Hawthorne retroactively bestows his chosen spelling of his name (HaWthorne) onto his parents, allowing him to now be “born in 1804 to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Senior and Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne.”
Please see comments on comprehensiveness and accuracy. Why anyone would use this collection when Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia, and sites like the Whitman Archive or the Emily Dickinson Archive provide such significantly better (and, at the very least, accurate) resources is an absolute mystery to me.
Given the numerous issues already outlined above, I would only like to add my reservations about the editorial work spent (or not spent) on annotating the literary texts. In short: There are no annotations. A Whitman poem titled “Reconstruction” is included and the bio of Douglass mentions that “he also criticized the Reconstruction policy.” (There are a number of statements phrased this oddly). Given these references, one would hope that at least a short explanation of “Reconstruction” is provided somewhere. That is not the case. The texts presented here appear to be largely lifted from Project Gutenberg (or alike websites) and no labor has been spent on adding the necessary explanatory apparatus that would turn this into a helpful resource in the classroom.
Please see my comments under “Comprehensiveness.”
The collection is organized by time periods, though the exact time range for each section remains a mystery. Each section has learning outcomes, though these are often at odds with the actual content presented or the study questions that follow a specific author section. These learning outcomes are generally focused on larger political developments (westward expansion, for example), while the study questions tend to favor an ahistorical mix of reader response and close reading. On the whole, these questions are perhaps the one contribution (aside from the period introductions) that add value to this volume. It is odd, though, that they do not cover all texts in a given author section: The Melville section, for instance, concludes with four questions about three of the six texts by Melville.
Adequate. See my reservations in previous sections.
The formatting is consistent but the interactive table of contents is broken (just sends you back to the first page), making this edition harder to use than the many superior, freely available online documents that could (and should) be consulted in its stead. Given the format (both of page and file), your students will not be able to read this on their phones.
There are a number of floating periods as a result of copy & paste errors. While the language in the introductory sections is largely adequate, it often slips into oddities: there is a strange reliance on articles, where there should be none (“criticized the Reconstruction policy.”), overuse of determiners that creates vagueness (“Andrew Jackson . . . would have never made it that far before that time”), and an overuse of a passive voice that suggests a lack of knowledge of historical actors (“However, a crisis was touched off”), sometimes coupled with an overreliance on simplistic vocabulary (“the Compromise of 1850 was made to resolve it”).
The edition is trying to be inclusive but runs into a number of issues, especially around the overly positive depictions of Jackson and the edition’s inability to acknowledge Native American genocide in the nineteenth century (see “accuracy”). Queer themes are purposefully ignored to a degree that constitutes revisionism. I cannot recommend its use in any classroom, though it might add value at the text selection stage of syllabi development.
At over 1,500 pages - yes, you read that right - this OER text is literally "Dr. Kurant's Opus." I wanted to write about how much I enjoyed this text and why I wish I could have thrown it in the face of those who love to start the American story... read more
At over 1,500 pages - yes, you read that right - this OER text is literally "Dr. Kurant's Opus." I wanted to write about how much I enjoyed this text and why I wish I could have thrown it in the face of those who love to start the American story with "The Mayflower Compact." But my enthusiasm quickly gave way to dismay when I realized that the author has her own selective touch to how she defines American literature.
This book/compilation is titled "Becoming America: An Exploration of American Literature from Precolonial to Post-Revolution," but my question is why? How can claim to tell the definitive story of American history from two time periods that are so poorly defined? How far back is "pre-colonial"? The author does well to include Native American creation stories as the first chapter, which might suggest to the reader that she is going really far back. But it feels like this addition was done just to pay lip service to those who claim that Native American history is neglected - it is - from textbooks. Why include such a short section and then barely reference other Native Americans along the way (except for the token inclusion of Tecumseh and William Apess)?
Similarly, where does post-revolution end? I presumed that post-revolution might be the 1790s, but the author goes as far along as 1869 when she ends the collection with Louisa May Alcott's "My Contraband." If this is the marker, then where are the slave narratives? Why is this "opus" so lacking in black voices? The University of North Carolina has a whole website dedicated to slave narratives that begin in 1740. Why has the author chosen to share the writings of abolitionists like David Walker instead of actual slaves? Why does this text simply reinforce the belief that the only three people of color whom American students should read are Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass?
This compendium is definitely relevant, especially at a time when a frequent point of discussion has become - again - about what makes America/ American identity. Sadly, the lack of black voices - as mentioned in the last section - make this work less relevant than it should be. Perhaps students must access this work in conjunction with the New York Times' "1619 Project" to get a better feel of "Becoming America."
The author's sections on "Learning Outcomes" and introductions to each of the four parts are written well and should be easily accessible by teachers and students alike.
The text does employ a consistent style and framework, but is inconsistent with how each section is defined. There are no parameters for what defines "Pre- and Early-Colonial Literature" (Part I) and the post-revolution of the title, especially because the last part is dedicated mainly to Romanticism and Transcendentalism.
"Becoming America" is absolutely massive, but it can be assigned easily in sections. Each of the four parts include many authors and/or specific thematic blocks, which can be assigned individually.
Without belaboring the points I made earlier, my additional concern here is why certain authors are emphasized more than others. Yes, the text misses key voices, particularly people of color and black voices. But the bigger issue is the author's obsession with certain writers. Does any student need access to THIRTY of Emily Dickinson's poems?
Very easy to navigate, especially if the user opens the file through Adobe Reader to find what they are looking for.
Well-written and free of punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes.
See previous points about over-representation of abolitionists and under-representation of African American voices.
Beginning with a thorough explanation of Native American and European explorative accounts that puts this period in its imperialistic context, Becoming America: An Exploration of American Literature from Precolonial to Post-Revolution covers... read more
Beginning with a thorough explanation of Native American and European explorative accounts that puts this period in its imperialistic context, Becoming America: An Exploration of American Literature from Precolonial to Post-Revolution covers indigenous creation and medicine stories, the first recordings of contact, and letters and writings from early trappers, traders, settlers, missionaries and soldiers.
Moving through the logical sequence of early American literary history through 19th century Romanticism and Transcendentalism, each section opens with well-developed learning outcomes as well as a contextual introduction, and each author and accompanying selection comes with five reading and review questions that rank high on Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Although there is no index, a well developed and very detailed table of contents readily reveals the comprehensiveness of the subject matter and how to quickly find specific periods and authors.
Introductory material for each section pulls no punches in setting fully developed historic contexts free of Western canonical bias. Selections throughout the 1553 page book maintain the often lost voices of indigenous, female, African and other minority writers and speakers of the times. Despite making room for many authors and writers often overlooked, the textbook still has room for the full range of America’s literary development from Thomas Paine to Louise May Alcott which helps makes the text an accurate representation of the historical period covered.
Literature seldom goes out of date, but the selection and editing process does. Although new authors are constantly being discovered and recognized for their place in the development of American literature, this very comprehensive textbook, which includes many of the writings of the Founding Fathers as well as those of slaves, farmers and ordinary workers along with the early American literary canon, does not appear to have left out any voices of merit well-known and not so well-known to this point.
Although the text-book introduces each topic with carefully crafted academic interpretations of the time-period, it avoids literary jargon, and where it does use higher-level terms, the author takes great pains to explain them and give examples. Both high school and college English or History majors would find this a highly readable and engaging text.
The text follows a clearly defined historical timeline and is divided into sections that consistently begin with Learning Objectives, followed by an historical and literary overview before introducing the selected readings for that period along with their reading and review questions.
The text follows a clearly defined historical timeline and is divided into sections that consistently begin with Learning Objectives, followed by an historical and literary overview before introducing the selected readings for that period along with their reading and review questions.
The textbook is presented as four distinct periods, beginning with Native American and European Explorative Accounts and ending with Emily Dickinson, Rebecca Harding Davis and Louisa May Alcott. In that the editor presents nine to 28 authors per period, it would be quite easy for an instructor pressed for time to compress the number of required readings without losing core course content.
The use of clear and consistent headings, along with a color scheme that indicates the categories of the headings and subheadings, makes the book attractive and facilitates ease of use. Presented as one PDF file, the text is readable, attractive and searchable. However, in a few cases the editor has resorted to hyperlinks to present some readings. These might be problematic over time, are not easily navigable back to the preceding pages and disrupt the over-all presentation, look and feel of the text.
The book is well proof-read, with non of the errors often associated with texts exported to PDF files.
The author does a thorough job of uncovering American literary voices that otherwise might not have been presented in earlier anthologies, with what by today's standards would be considered fair and comprehensive historical analysis in the section overviews.
I am looking forward to using sections and readings from this book in my next online Introduction to Literature course.
Table of Contents
- Part One: Pre- and Early Colonial Literature
- Part Two: Seventeenth Century English Colonial Literature
- Part Three: Revolutionary and Early National Period Literature
- Part Four: Nineteenth Century Romanticism and Transcendentalism
About the Book
The University of North Georgia Press and Affordable Learning Georgia bring you Becoming America: An Exploration of American Literature from Precolonial to Post-Revolution. Featuring sixty-nine authors and full texts of their works, the selections in this open anthology represent the diverse voices in early American literature. This completely-open anthology will connect students to the conversation of literature that is embedded in American history and has helped shaped its culture.
- Contextualizing introductions from Pre- and Early Colonial Literature to Early American Romanticism
- Over 70 historical images
- In-depth biographies of each author
- Instructional Design, including Reading and Review Questions
This textbook is an open Educational Resource. It can be reused, remixed, and reedited freely without seeking permission.
About the Contributors
Wendy Kurant, Ph.D., teaches Early American Literature, American Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, and Southern Literature at the University of North Georgia (UNG). Her research interests center on new Historicism and depictions of the South and the Civil War in Literature. She has taught at UNG since 2005.