Cmlit 005 Introduction to Literatures of the Americas



CMLIT 005, Introduction to Literatures of the Americas, will explore literary and cultural notions of”America,” and what it means to be “American,” in terms of the entire hemisphere. Literature from the United States, Spanish America, Canada, the Caribbean, and Brazil will be the basis for exploring the cultural traditions of North and South America. Readings include many genres and artistic forms dealing with histories and accounts of “American” issues, such as conquest, nationalism, slavery, diaspora, and immigration. We will examine issues of race, ethnicity, class, religion, as well as other vital concerns of identity and “American-ness” as reflected in both oral and written literary traditions through the history of the Americas. At the conclusion of this course, students will be able to understand and make comparisons among the many “American” literary and cultural traditions.


** This course fulfills requirements for the Comparative Literature major, the World Literature minor, General Education and Bachelor of Arts Humanities, and General Education United States and International Competency. Because of the open-ended nature of the issues at the heart of the course, students will be expected to immerse themselves in the assigned texts and the notions of America they present (i.e., be prepared to read, and to read attentively!). Though the instructor will provide background information to contextualize the texts and their authors, the class periods will primarily consist of student-centered discussion. Students will also engage the “American” issues of the texts by completing two take-home exams, and completing writing assignments.


In this course, students will:


  • Encounter the great variety of literatures of the Americas by reading the assigned texts.


  • Make comparisons among the many American literary traditions.


  • Become better able to understand American literature as a hemispheric phenomenon; that is, to better see the cultural, political, and historical connections (and divergences) between American literatures.


  • Critically analyze literary and cultural notions of “America.”


  • Develop the knowledge and skills necessary to analyze literary works in terms of form and style.


  • Identify literary techniques (relating to themes, motifs, points of view, etc.) used in the assigned texts and evaluate their effects in class discussion and during the final group presentation.


  • Engage in collaborative learning by completing activities as a group.


  • Actively participate in the creation of a vibrant and rewarding learning community. • Demonstrate the critical thinking skills necessary for further study of literature and culture.




  • Roberto González Echevarría, ed. The Oxford Book of Latin American Short Stories. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. ISBN: 9780195130850.


  • Lex Williford and Michael Martone, eds. The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. ISBN: 9781416532279.


  • Additional materials will be available on CANVAS.




Your grade will be determined by the following assignments:


Attendance, preparation and participation                    5%

Quizzes                                                                       6%

Discussion Questions                                                4%

In-Class Group Assignments                                             35%

Short In-Class Writing Assignments                30%

Take-Home Exams                                                   20%


Grading Scale

Your grades will be available on CANVAS at all times. Please make sure you check your grades frequently so there are no issues at the end of the session. The College of the Liberal Arts’ grading scale is:


A          95 and above

A-        90-94.9

B+       85-89.9

B          80-84.9

B-        75-79.9

C+       70-74.9

C          65-69.9

D         60-64.9

F          59.9


Attendance: Two unexcused absences are permitted without penalty; please save them in case of minor illness, emergencies, family events, a job interview, etc. Beyond these, each additional unexcused absence will result in a reduction of 1% from the 5% allotted to attendance. In the event that a student must miss a class, he/she should contact other students to obtain missed information. Students who must miss class due to serious illness or other university-approved absences, and have an official written excuse, may make up the work that was done in class and be excused from that absence; all such requests must be made within one week of the missed work and will not be considered after that time. In the case of chronic unexcused absences, the student’s grade will be lowered further, including the possibility of failing the course, in accordance with university policy.


Preparation and participation: This class requires you to read. In order to complete the assignments, students must be able to read and discuss in class what they have read. Please do not neglect to come to class prepared to engage in an informed discussion of the day’s assigned readings.


Quizzes: You will answer multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and true or false questions based on the readings. No questions will come from the lectures; however, the lectures will help students gauge how to read and what is important to know. There will be 5 quizzes. Each quiz will be available for 24 hours—Midnight on Sunday to Midnight on Monday (see exceptions below).


Class Discussion Questions: You are required to bring one or two written discussion questions to every class. These may be answered through my lectures but if not, we will get to them before the end of class. Students will be randomly asked to turn in their discussion questions.


In-Class Group Assignments: There will be five in-class group assignments based on the readings for that week. You will be required to analyze a text with your peers and present your analysis to the rest of the class.


Short In-Class Writing Assignments: There will be at least five in-class writing assignments (additional ones will count as extra credit, no more of 2% of the final grade). These assignments will be based on the readings for the week.


Take-Home Exams: There will be two take-home exams, one midterm and one final. For these exams you will be required to answer questions related to the readings. The purpose of these is to allow you to reflect on how certain texts compare/contrast.


Extra Credit—Student Engagement: Learning about literature can occur in a number of ways within a university, and many of these opportunities exist outside the classroom. By attending Monday talks in the Comparative Literature Luncheon series delivered by visiting professors and other scholars, or, with my advance approval, by attending talks and cultural events offered by other departments, you can expand upon the knowledge we build in our class. Within one week of attending the lecture, write a brief report (no longer than one single-spaced page) summarizing and reacting to the talk/event, for up to 3 points, depending on the quality of your report. You may earn up to 3% extra credit in this way.


Late Work: Unless you have requested prior authorization and I have granted it, I will not accept late




Lectures: My lectures will provide you with background information for the texts and their authors, as well as socio-historical context.


Readings: It is critical for you to keep up with the readings, which have been subdivided by weeks and by topics. You will need to complete the readings to take quizzes and complete other assignments. You should expect to complete approximately 50 to 200 pages of reading per week so make sure you give yourself enough time to read.


Assignments: All assignments MUST be completed and submitted during the allotted time frame (see the “Schedule of Assignments” below). At the end of the posted time (this will be according to U. S. Eastern Time), the drop boxes will shut down and you will not be able to submit the assignment. When a due date is given, you have up until 11:59 pm of that day to submit. Please be alert to deadlines because no late work will be accepted.


Technological Requirements: You will need a reliable computer with internet to access some of the readings and complete the assignments. CANVAS has glitches with a few browsers, so please make sure you use either Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox (if you have a PC, Internet Explorer works better and if you have a Mac, Mozilla Firefox works better). You will also need Adobe Acrobat Reader or another PDF reader to view some of the PDF files posted on CANVAS. These are programs that can be downloaded for free.


Deadlines: All time deadlines are U.S. Eastern Time and all assignments are due by 11:59 p.m. on the day assigned—no late assignments will be accepted. The last day of the Regular Drop period is Wednesday, September 4; the last day of the Regular Add period is Thursday, September 5 (8:00 am ET); the last day to Late Drop is Friday, November 15, and the last day to withdraw from this class is Friday, December 13.


Copyrights: This course includes third-party copyrighted materials, which are intended for educational use only by registered students during participation in this course. Texts and images shall not be downloaded, copied, retained, printed, shared, modified, or otherwise used, except for educational purposes by individual students. To make sure that the course adheres to these guidelines, we ask you NOT to share files from the Lessons or Readings folders with anyone else.


Course Website (CANVAS): Please be aware that this course website may occasionally be unavailable due to routine CANVAS maintenance, system changes, etc. This situation is beyond the instructor’s control. If CANVAS becomes inaccessible unexpectedly, corresponding extensions WILL be added to the deadline—for example, if CANVAS is down for two hours, a midnight deadline will be changed to 2 a.m. Keep in mind that CANVAS is down for routine maintenance EVERY DAY from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. (ET). Please make sure to allow enough time to complete assignments and postings, and do not wait until the last minute to access the course website. NO INDIVIDUAL EXCUSES FOR COMPUTER MALFUNCTION WILL BE ACCEPTED. If you experience individual technical difficulties with CANVAS, please contact CANVAS SUPPORT directly. They are the ones who can access your files remotely and provide you with the support you may need. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that I can do to help in these situations.


Contacting Your Instructor: You may contact me by sending e-mail through CANVAS. I will respond to all emails within 24 hours on weekdays and within 48 hours on weekends.


Disability Statement: The Pennsylvania State University encourages qualified people with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities and is committed to the policy that all people shall have equal access to programs, facilities, and admissions without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation in this course or have questions about physical access, please tell me as soon as possible.


Disclaimer: We have a great number of things to read in a short time. I therefore reserve the right to modify this syllabus throughout the semester as appropriate—please check your email at least once a day, as notification of changes will be disseminated electronically.


Extra help: I hope that this course is challenging, motivating, and fun. If you are having difficulty with any aspect of the course—in-class discussions, reading assignments, presentations, etc.—please come talk to me during office hours (or by appointment, if you can’t make it during my regular hours). I’d much rather spend some extra time with you working through whatever’s giving you difficulty than have you have a bad experience with the course.




University policies related to academic matters (for example, rules governing academic dishonesty) are strictly upheld in this course. Penn State defines academic integrity as the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, hones, and responsible manner. All students should act with personal integrity, respect of other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts (Faculty Senate Policy 49-20). Dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated in this course. Dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used, or tampering with academic work of other students. Students who are found to be dishonest will receive academic sanctions and will be reported to the University’s Judicial Affairs Office for possible further disciplinary action. See for more information. For further information on plagiarism, see for more information on plagiarism.


Registration policy: During the drop/add period at the beginning of the course, the Department of Comparative Literature encourages students to visit this and other courses in order to make informed decisions about which courses to take. After the drop/add period, however, only students who are registered in the course may remain; no student may late-add (or restore a dropped registration) after the second week of the course without petitioning the department on a form in the main office (202 Burrowes).









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