United States History and American LiteratureI am currently teaching an 11th grade American Literature class with a history teacher. We have tried to collaborate and balance the use of history with...

United States History and American Literature

I am currently teaching an 11th grade American Literature class with a history teacher. We have tried to collaborate and balance the use of history with literature. However, I find that much of the time we are doing strictly history. I attempted to do some research on this matter before teaching the class, but I was not able to find as much as I hoped. The idea is that history and literature are so closely related, but I'm not sure if I'm teaching it in the most effective way? Any and all suggestions??

Asked on by snoblitt

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lizbv's profile pic

lizbv | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

I also teach American Literature to 11th graders and I really focus the year on literature as a form of social protest, as well as a representation of the multicultural melting pot that is the US and its literature.

For social protest, we have read and discussed the works of Mark Twain (his opinions on slavery - how the novel makes a statement by studying its themes), Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry (ideas of assimilation; the need to fit in with society and the contrast to individualism), The Great Gatsby and West Side Story's "I Want to Live in America" (the American Dream, fact vs. fiction), The Catcher in the RYe (the American teenager and the adolescent experience in America, 1950's vs. now).
For multicultural lit, take a look at some of the (as I refer to them) "hyphen Americans", such as African - Americans, Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans, etc. Consider the racial themes, the differences in their use of language, their styles of writing (i.e. Latin writers very much use magical realism, vs. Asian American writers that really emphasize a realism that combines tradition with modernity).

Hope these ideas help!

engtchr5's profile pic

engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

One example that immediately popped to mind when reading this topic was that of our short story unit and our novel unit here at my school. During "Survival Lit," which was our short story unit, we examined, compared, and contrasted the settings of The Most Dangerous Game vs. To Build A Fire vs. "Leiningen and the Ants." All three had to do with the theme of survival, but each author represented a different era in history. Those eras were then studied in-depth, and proved critical to the overall understanding of each story.

In the case of our novel unit, we are studying To Kill a Mockingbird, and along with that, the students are gaining an understanding of the 1930s, the Great Depression, segregation, and other history-related issues. An integrated curriculum is essential for each subject to truly do its job. Best of luck in your new pursuits.

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

What texts are you using? Why not use the historical texts to teach students how to interpret nonfiction? My state's standards include a nonfiction component--how to recognize propaganda, how to evaluate speeches, what are loaded words, etc. You could say that without the writing of the patriots, particularly Thomas Paine, the revolutionary fever might not have been so hot.

Let us know how the class turns out!!

morrol's profile pic

morrol | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

You can also use history to teach about literary time periods, or the history of literature. This is a great way to show the shift from Victorian, to Edwardian, to Modern, to Contemporary literature. You can explain the historic events and trends that accompanied these literary transitions.

debbiejwilson's profile pic

debbiejwilson | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

United States History and American Literature

I am currently teaching an 11th grade American Literature class with a history teacher. We have tried to collaborate and balance the use of history with literature. However, I find that much of the time we are doing strictly history. I attempted to do some research on this matter before teaching the class, but I was not able to find as much as I hoped. The idea is that history and literature are so closely related, but I'm not sure if I'm teaching it in the most effective way? Any and all suggestions??

I know what you're feeling; my 10th graders told me, "We're really in a history of culture class?" while studying To Kill a Mockingbird. It was imperative that they knew the time frame and understand what was going on to appreicate fully the book. So, in answer to your question--you are on the right track. I've tried to emphasize to my students the fact that culture IS a reflection of the era (for those intersted in history) and for those who are not--how the writers made themselves heard--techniques they used, etc. Those are the true universal themes that all students struggle with today. Hope it helps

snoblitt's profile pic

snoblitt | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

I also teach American Literature to 11th graders and I really focus the year on literature as a form of social protest, as well as a representation of the multicultural melting pot that is the US and its literature.

For social protest, we have read and discussed the works of Mark Twain (his opinions on slavery - how the novel makes a statement by studying its themes), Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry (ideas of assimilation; the need to fit in with society and the contrast to individualism), The Great Gatsby and West Side Story's "I Want to Live in America" (the American Dream, fact vs. fiction), The Catcher in the RYe (the American teenager and the adolescent experience in America, 1950's vs. now).
For multicultural lit, take a look at some of the (as I refer to them) "hyphen Americans", such as African - Americans, Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans, etc. Consider the racial themes, the differences in their use of language, their styles of writing (i.e. Latin writers very much use magical realism, vs. Asian American writers that really emphasize a realism that combines tradition with modernity).

Hope these ideas help!

Thank you! Those are great ideas. I haven't taught Catcher in a few years. It makes perfect sense to use it in that manner. I will definitely take a look at it.

I do love the idea of multicultural lit as a compliment to the American. Obviously with immigration issues, there is a definite relevance.

Thanks for the suggestions! Always appreciated.

Anybody out there taught In Cold Blood?

snoblitt's profile pic

snoblitt | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

What texts are you using? Why not use the historical texts to teach students how to interpret nonfiction? My state's standards include a nonfiction component--how to recognize propaganda, how to evaluate speeches, what are loaded words, etc. You could say that without the writing of the patriots, particularly Thomas Paine, the revolutionary fever might not have been so hot.

Let us know how the class turns out!!

We do use many primary sources. I suppose the big issue is always one of resources. Never having enough books for everyone, being careful about making so many copies, etc. etc. Some of the primary source material has worked out well. Students have read Civil War letters and written their own in character. It was great to see many of them understand and highlight the historical context.

I'll keep you posted!

snoblitt's profile pic

snoblitt | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

Find two literary texts set in the same geographical location but from different time periods. The changes and similarites should provide lots of enlightening classwork discussion and homework. This is off the top of my head but how about taking a section from

A section of Mark Twain's travel writing

with

A section from To Kill a Mockingbird

to look at how the South has and hasn't changed.

That is a good idea. I am doing some thematic units. For example, next week before Christmas break, we are going to do some historical role play and examine the immigrant experience. We will look at differing views of the American Dream. Also, students are preparing foods brought to America by immigrants. I hope it is going to go well!

frizzyperm's profile pic

frizzyperm | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Find two literary texts set in the same geographical location but from different time periods. The changes and similarites should provide lots of enlightening classwork discussion and homework. This is off the top of my head but how about taking a section from

A section of Mark Twain's travel writing

with

A section from To Kill a Mockingbird

to look at how the South has and hasn't changed.

pmulderm's profile pic

pmulderm | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

You might explain to students how the time period of a person's life affects their views. For example, in a time of war or other serious national problems the literature that is produced is of a more serious or somber nature.

In more peaceful times the work that is produced can be more experimental since writers did not have to worry so much about keeping safe from such hard lives. Even comedy is found.

The culture greatly influenced writers. If they lived when there were more stable families, they will probably not write about divorce. Although they may write about families breaking apart when the father abandons the family. It would be rare for a writer to say anything negative about mothers.

Also, society of the past was much more religious than we currently experience. Direct passages from the Bible were common as well as references Bible stories. For example, writers like Poe and Hemingway remember that their readers are familiar with the Bible. Within their works are clues that their educations included religion.

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