Cultural Context Research Project

        While developing your Hawthorne paper, take an hour to work in small collaborative research groups on a research project on one of these figures whose lives may help you understand Hawthorne’s work: Hawthorne, himself; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Herman Melville; Henry David Thoreau, and Edgar Allen Poe. For each figure, there are scholarly resources available in the Main Collection of the Library. For this project, you must use scholarly printed sources, not "Wikipedia," etc..  If you find yourself reaching for Google, observe your addiction to cheap and inaccurate search engines and the sources they provide, but restrain yourself and do not bother doing an Internet-only search because you cannot use the sources in this project.  This is a deliberate attempt to force you to go through "Internet withdrawal" so that you can learn how to operate scholarly books.  You already know too much about how to surf, but reading scholarly books is more important to your career.

        Use the online library catalog to search for print sources in the library, of course, but you must be prepared to physically get up, get out of your room, and go to the library to use those sources.  The only exception to this rule will be the online Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory article linked below, and other sources the online catalog tells you are "Electronic Resources," and even then, you are responsible for making sure they are scholarly in nature, not amateur.  When in doubt, ask me so that I can help you determine this crucial distinction with ease.  When you have formed your group, read the questions below and try to answer them by using the best resources you can find. If you need help, make sure you contact the reference librarians. If you can’t find answers to one or two questions, contact me for further assistance.  You will note that all the groups will have to answer questions about the biographical subject's opinions about Mexican War and Transcendentalism.  This is crucial to our understanding of Hawthorne because the war, and the Transcendental doctrine, were among the most hotly debated intellectual topics of his adult life.

    Make sure you meet with your group at least once before doing the research to avoid duplicating another researcher’s effort. Also meet once after the research is over to decide how you will present your material and who will be doing the talking. You may either divide up the information among yourselves, or you may decide to elect one person to do most of the presentation. But avoid unfairly burdening any one member with the work.

    All presentations should be accompanied by a printed handout, Web page or PowerPoint slide containing basic biographical information about your subject, followed by an Annotated Bibliography (i.e., list of sources available, not a "Works Cited") of scholarly sources you have discovered that could be useful to someone who wanted to pursue further information about your subject. The annotations can be brief, only a few sentences, but they should specifically describe what kind of information the source provides. That will require you to have at least looked at the source, though you should not have to have read all the sources you list. I won't demand that you list any set number of sources, but I will expect that a group working for nearly a week should be able to discover a fair number of titles. I especially will be interested to see whether they appear to be scholarly.  (If you use a Web page or PowerPoint slide, please post the page link or slide to GoucherLearn so we can access it after class.)

    Because we have five presentations to do in 75 minutes, each group will be limited to 10 to 12 minutes in order to allow time for class questions and discussion.  If you are reading from a script, which I recommend to  avoid getting lost and losing time, that's about four pages of double-spaced text, at most.

Hawthorne:

    What do we know about Hawthorne’s birth and early life that might explain his treatment of young men and women in the stories? What was his attitude about Transcendentalism?  You can get an acceptable definition of the term from a scholarly source at the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory, in John Allison's online essay on "American Theory and Criticism: Nineteenth Century."  How might that have affected his stories’ representations of nature, morality, and humanity? What were his political principles, especially those regarding slavery and the war with Mexico? Did he ever write anything specifically addressing those two topics, and if so, what did he say about them? What do his biographers say about his career in general—does it have phases or patterns, and where do these stories fit into his career (are they early, middle, or late work)?

Melville:

    What do we know about Melville’s birth and early life that might explain his thinking as it is reflected in works like Moby Dick? What was his formal education? What was his attitude about Transcendentalism?  You can get an acceptable definition of the term from a scholarly source at the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory, in John Allison's online essay on "American Theory and Criticism: Nineteenth Century."   How might that have affected his stories’ representations of nature, morality, and humanity? What were his political principles, especially those regarding slavery and the war with Mexico? Did he ever write anything specifically addressing those two topics, and if so, what did he say about them? What do his biographers say about his career in general—does it have phases or patterns, and where do his greatest works fit into the years in which Hawthorne was writing his works? Especially see his letters to Hawthorne—what do they tell you about the two men’s thinking?

Thoreau:

    What do we know about Thoreau’s birth and early life that might explain his decision to retreat to Walden pond? What was his formal education, and what intellectual influences did Walden reveal? What was his attitude about Transcendentalism?  You can get an acceptable definition of the term from a scholarly source at the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory, in John Allison's online essay on "American Theory and Criticism: Nineteenth Century."  How might that have affected his stories’ representations of nature, morality, and humanity? What were his political principles, especially those regarding slavery and the war with Mexico? Did he ever write anything specifically addressing those two topics, and if so, what did he say about them? What do his biographers say about his career in general—does it have phases or patterns, and where does his career fit into Hawthorne’s?

Emerson:

    What do we know about Emersonís birth and early life that might explain his development as a major proponent of the Transcendentalist movement? What was Transcendentalism and what did Transcendentalists think about nature, morality, and humanity?  You can get an acceptable definition of the term from a scholarly source at the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory, in John Allison's online essay on "American Theory and Criticism: Nineteenth Century."   What were his political principles, especially those regarding slavery and the war with Mexico? Did he ever write anything specifically addressing those two topics, and if so, what did he say about them? What do his biographers say about his career in general—does it have phases or patterns, and where was he when Hawthorne was writing the stories we read?

Poe:

    What do we know about Poe’s birth and early life that might explain his stories’ themes and images? What was his formal education? What was his attitude about Transcendentalism?  You can get an acceptable definition of the term from a scholarly source at the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory, in John Allison's online essay on "American Theory and Criticism: Nineteenth Century."   How might that have affected his stories’ representations of nature, morality, and humanity? What kinds of themes and images did he commonly use in his stories and how might they be compared with Hawthorne’s? What were his political principles, especially those regarding slavery and the war with Mexico? Did he ever write anything specifically addressing those two topics, and if so, what did he say about them? What do his biographers say about his career in general—does it have phases or patterns, and where does his career fit into Hawthorne’s?  Was Hawthorne aware of Poe's work and was Poe aware of Hawthorne's?

Click here for the evaluation criteria I will use to measure the quality of the groups' work