Textbook Cover. The Open Anthology of American Literature: Beginning to 1865: Farrah Cato, Editor

Table of Contents

  • Section 1: Colonial America’s Literary Beginnings
  • Section 2: Native American Contact Zones
  • Section 3: Revolution, Liberty, & Founding Figures
  • Section 4: The Age of Reform
  • Section 5: Slave Narratives

About this Anthology

This anthology was made possible by a grant from Challenge Florida: Open Access Grant etc. by John Raible, Aimee Denoyelles and Penny Beile at the University of Central Florida.

Copyright Information

This anthology is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license, except where otherwise noted


I owe huge thanks to John Raible, my Instructional Designer, for his patience and guidance while I worked on this project, as well as his steady encouragement for me to explore open-access resources. John, Aimee Denoyelles, and Penny Beile were the ones who made this project happen, and I owe them for including me, and for all of their hard work and support. I want to give special thanks to my former students Meleena Gil and Samantha Steiner for their ideas about how to make this open-access resource more useful and engaging for students. Thanks also to Chrishawn Speller (Seminole State College) for her time, expertise, and valuable feedback. I am especially grateful to my UCF colleagues Kathy Hohenleitner, who has always generously shared her resources, and to Lisa Logan, for her feedback and all the support she has given me over the years; thank you to both of you for showing me the way.

Textbook cover uses Thomas Cole’s Kaaterskill Falls (1826)

General Structure & Ways to Use this Anthology

This anthology is divided into five major sections, starting with the Colonial period and ending with the publication of Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl on the eve of the Civil War. Each section includes an overview and framework for approaching the readings, as well as overarching questions to help students think about the connections between the texts. There is also a brief introduction to each of the authors featured in these sections, followed by discussion questions based on the texts. The textual introductions do not include a great deal of biographical material; instead, I have used them to provide a frame (typically connected to the larger section introduction) that I hope will help students to navigate from. The discussion questions could also easily be used as open-ended exam questions or as essay prompts. Some of the discussion questions are also invitations for students to make intertextual connections, or to consider how the literary landscape changes from its “beginnings” to the Civil War.

One section that is slightly different from the others is the Section 5: Slave Narratives. In this section, I have given a broad overview of slave narrative conventions, but I did not do individual introductions for Douglass and Jacobs. My intent was to give students a sense of how slave narratives were framed and presented during the time period, and to let each author give voice to their experiences. The discussion questions also consider these narratives in tandem, and this is largely because I find it useful for students to make comparisons between the texts; typically, it helps them to appreciate the larger narrative conventions more easily, but it also helps them to recognize key differences in the experiences of men and women. That is, rather than conflating all slave experiences into one, as though there is a “universal” slave experience, my students have become more deliberate in thinking about how complex the system was.
In some areas, I have embedded videos from Annenberg Learner, which is an invaluable resource whether you are teaching online or face-to-face. I have used their videos with students in both modalities, and the students always comment on how helpful they find this material. Internet access is required to view videos and links to external websites.

One difference in using open-access sources like those collected here is that these texts do not contain as many footnotes as students typically rely on when they encounter “old” literature. While this may initially prove challenging, I also see it as an opportunity for students to become more, rather than less, engaged with American literature produced before 1865. Inviting students to ask questions about the texts and their cultural and historical moments creates opportunities for them to conduct research that they might not otherwise engage in. Instructors could provide a list of “curiosities” for students to conduct and present research on, or, students could be encouraged to follow their own lines of inquiry.

Some of the texts have been excerpted, but in many cases, I have left more rather than less material so that instructors can use the pieces that work best for them and their course objectives. For example, these are the objectives that I currently use in my American Literature I course at the University of Central Florida:

  • Students will become familiar with literature produced in the United States from the colonial period through the mid-nineteenth century
  • Students will explore a variety of texts that show how early Americans viewed and responded to the various events of their day,
  • Students will consider how these writers try to make sense of their world and their roles within it,
  • Students will consider how these texts reflect a constantly-evolving definition of what counts as “America” and what it means to be an American

I have grouped the materials in ways that work for me right now, but many of the readings included here easily fit other categories. For example, some instructors might prefer to situate the readings around themes like “Religion & Spirituality” or “Utopian Communities,” while other clusters might focus on gender, race and ethnicity, or social class. Others might begin with the Native American readings and then move chronologically rather than thematically. One colleague suggested moving the slave narratives into the section on “Revolution, Liberty, & Founding Figures.” Any of these approaches will work depending on what particular student-learning outcomes each instructor has. At the end of the semester, it might even be productive to invite students to weigh in on these questions. If nothing else, it might prompt them to think differently about how literary canons work, as well as the kinds of choices editors make when putting together the print anthologies that students are accustomed to using.

This anthology is not, by any means, complete. There is a lot of room for it to grow. There are many other texts I could (and will) use in my future classes. For example, I am already thinking about which of Poe’s short stories or Dickinson’s poems I’ll include next. Rather than seeing this anthology as a static text, I see it as full of possibilities for me and my students, and my hope is that others can use it as a springboard for more robust conversations about early American texts and how they connect to our ever-evolving ideas about what it means to be American today.


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Open Anthology of American Literature Copyright © 2021 by Farrah Cato is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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