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ENGL 1600 Masterpieces of American Literature

About the Course

Welcome to English 1600, “Masterpieces of American Literature.” I hope you will find this course both intellectually stimulating and enjoyable. If you like to read, if you’re interested in “America,” you may be in for a treat!

I’d like to begin by suggesting that the course title, “Masterpieces of American Literature,” can be seen to represent currently-somewhat-discredited concepts. Personally, juxtaposition of the words “Master” and “American” reminds me of the national shame of slavery; and the masculinity of “Masterpiece” might suggest that a woman is less likely to be “qualified” to write one. More broadly, the current state of academic literary studies doesn’t put much stock in the idea of authors as “masters” of their material. Literature is often seen as determined at least as much by cultural/historical environment as by individual authors; and it is not generally considered that authors have “command” of their material in the sense of communicating just what they “intend” to. Plus, modern/postmodern critics tend to dismiss the idea that there ARE such thing as “masterpieces” that are “universal timeless classics”; instead, the appeals of “literature” are determined differently by different cultures in different times and places.


This course has three main purposes: First, I want to introduce you to some excellent and interesting pieces of American literature, including fiction, poetry and political writing. Second, I want to present this literature in some contexts of American literary/political/cultural history, including the notion that such a “story” of American literature could be told from many different perspectives; this particular version of the course adopts something of an “outsider’s” point of view. You’ll be offered some terrific reading. Hopefully some of it will speak meaningfully to your mind, heart and soul. Third, the course aims to teach some of the basic skills of writing essays, particularly academic essays about literature.

Grade Breakdown

  • You are required to complete all 10 writing assignments, amounting to 250 points.
  • You will also complete 10 discussion board posts worth a combined 75 points.
  • The Final Examination will represent the remaining 75 points.
  • All told the total points possible for this class is 400.

Required Text

The required textbook for the course is: The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Concise (4th) Edition. Paul Lauter, Ed. ISBN#: 0618256636.or ISBN-13: 9780618256631.

Instructor Contact

Todd Pinney, PhD

Dr. Pinney earned a BA in Poetics at The Naropa Institute and an MA in Creative Writing at Boston University. He earned his PhD in English and American Literature at Brandeis University. He is a poet, whose academic specialty is American poetry. His dissertation is on American Family Elegies, 1633-1883. He has studied and taught T’ai Chi and is particularly interested in film, jazz, and learning to play guitar.

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7:30am to 4:30pm


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University of Colorado Boulder
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Boulder, Colorado