ENGL 371 (Schedule #26725)
Virginia Commonwealth University
Spring 2012
Tues-Thurs 11am-12:15pm :: 429 Hibbs Hall
Prof. David Golumbia
Office: 324D Hibbs Hall
Spring 2012 Office Hours: Tues 12:30-3:00pm

American Literary Beginnings

This class examines some of the many ways in which writing and text mattered to the centuries-long, globe-spanning encounters between the peoples of Europe and those of what we now call North and South America. Rather than taking a broad survey, we will focus in on a limited number of the period's most critical figures, sites, and events, especially those that continue to inform the political and cultural worlds today. Despite our tight focus, we will read widely across language, period, and genre, and discuss colonial encounters across many parts of the "New World." We'll focus in particular on 1) the earliest encounter texts (particularly those of Columbus, Las Casas, Bernal Diaz, and Cortés), 2) Virginia texts (including writers such as John Smith, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Rolfe, and Thomas Jefferson), and 3) texts of particular formal interest such as those of Cabeza de Vaca, Olaudah Equiano, Mary Rowlandson, and historians such as Oviedo, Bernardino de Sahagún, and William H. Prescott. We'll look at least briefly at texts by non-Europeans that survived the encounter, including some of the Aztec codices and the interpretation of Maya glyphs, and we'll take an occasional dip into the rich secondary literature on these topics and texts. We'll also try to cram in at least a couple of contemporary retellings/re-interpretations of these events, including some recent documentaries about the histories of Mexico and Central America, and films like The New World. Students write two short papers and a longer final paper.

Books (please note: you must obtain the exact editions indicated below)

Other Primary Texts (on reserve, and/or available online or as library eTexts; you are not expected to purchase these books)

Online Texts

Films (on reserve)

Secondary Texts (on reserve, and/or available online or as library eTexts; you are not expected to purchase these books)


Assignments and Evaluation

Evaluation will be based on written exercises and course participation as follows:



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Understanding these guidelines will help you to encourage classroom behavior that does not detract from the quality of each student’s educational experience. Please read the document and think about your role in promoting a University culture based on mutual respect and civility.

As a reminder, both faculty and students should turn off cell phones and pagers while in the classroom.

Important Dates

Important dates for the Spring 2012 semester are available at:

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Week-by-Week Syllabus

Week One. First Contacts.

Week Two. First Contacts.

Week Three. First Contacts.

Week Four. First Contacts.

Week Five. First Contacts.

Week Six. Tenochtitlan.

Week Seven. Tenochtitlan.

Week Eight. Tenochtitlan.

Week Nine. Spring Break

Week Ten. El Dorado & The Amazon.

Week Eleven. El Dorado & The Amazon.

Week Twelve. El Dorado & The Amazon.

Week Thirteen. Virginia.

Week Fourteen. Virginia.

Week Fifteen. Virginia.

Week Sixteen. Virginia.

Second short paper due in my English Dept mailbox (Hibbs Hall), or in Blackboard or via email during the final exam period for this course. There is no other final exam for the course.

Last updated April 24, 2012.