Thematic Essay Assignments

you can pick one from the following writer’s:

Henry David Thoreau, George Gatlin, John Muir, John Burroughs, Henry Beston

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English 2020-The Experience of Literature

Thematic Essay Assignments


In this assignment you are asked to do additional research in order to “read” the significance of any one of the works and/or authors you encountered over the course of the semester.  I’d like each of you to produce two additional sources that help to shed further light on the importance and/or lasting influence on any of the authors we’ve read.  You may consult a field of book and/or web sources, but consider any studies which present useful information about

  • The author’s biography
  • The context for the work—what prompted it and how it was received.
  • The work’s continuing influence—who still reads this work, and (why) is it still read?


The goal is to supply additional information about the author, the time and place, and the significance of the work.  What shaped the work’s creation, and what shaped the work/author’s legacy?  If asked to boil this assignment down to a single sentence, it would be something like “this information allows readers to understand the author and the work in greater detail because…”  So a sentence like that should appear in the paper’s early stages, and you should take pains to develop this idea with quotes you’ve gathered in research.

Ultimately, I’d like to see if you can provide additional context for understanding one of our readings.  Put simply, you should try to provide some sort of context for the work you’re considering.  You should try to explain what the work does, what it shows, what it is, or what it has become in light of some biographical, critical, or historical context that you’ve provided.

This report should be between two and three typed, double spaced pages (1” margins, 12 point font).  You should quote and cite your sources according to proper MLA protocols, and should take care to include a Works Cited page that lists your sources.  This isn’t a writing class per se, but we can devote some time to quoting and citing protocols as needed.

A word about sources:  do take steps to use and document your sources responsibly.  Many websites provide useful contextual information, and you should start with these.  But the better material might come from an search to get access to printed/published works, or perhaps a search on GoogleScholar.  Likewise, going to the library’s homepage and researching a work on the MLA bibliography  or the Liteature Criticism Online or  Literature Resource Center (Under “M” and “L,” respectively, in the “Databases A to Z link”) might prove fruitful as well.  And you should remember, from English 1020, the reliable Lexis Nexis, OneFile, and Academic Search Primer databases under the “Articles”à”popular databases” links on the library’s homepage.  There are plenty of resources to research each work and author, so do spend some time to find the most interesting sources that amplify your understanding of a given work.

As far as due dates:  You have four dates, two in October and two in November, to submit two essays.  Those submitting on one of the earlier dates may do so with the understanding that you will use the feedback to revise for a later submission.  However, the required due dates are the last October and the later November dates (indicated on your syllabus), so please keep this schedule in mind in light of your end-of-semester workload.


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