Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Course Description:
“The reality, the simplicity, the transparency of my dear mother’s life was responsible for the main things in Leaves of Grass itself. How much I owe Her! Leaves of Grass is the flower of her temperament active in me."
-Walt Whitman in an interview with Horace Traubel

This course is a five week special studies collegiate course designated for English majors that have junior or senior status. Prior knowledge about the nineteenth century American writer Walt Whitman is highly suggested but not a prerequisite. Throughout the course we will undertake intensive study of Walt Whitman’s letters, poetry, and prose with emphasis on how it connects to Whitman’s representation of women and his relationship with the most important woman in his life, his mother. The relationship Whitman had with his mother is rarely examined, and therefore this course is designed with this relationship in mind. As Whitman advises, “Listen to all sides and filter them from your self” so, I invite you to take on Whitman’s call for action and examine a new side of Walt Whitman- the womanly side.

Course Objectives:

1. Critically analyze primary source documents to interpret and evaluate their significance in correlation with Walt Whitman.

2. Explain how nineteenth-century societal views are represented in Walt Whitman’s poetry and prose.

3. Creative online collaboration in order to share Walt Whitman with the rest of the world.

4. Relate Walt Whitman’s biographical life to his written works

Required Texts:

Walt Whitman: Complete Poetry and Collected Prose (Library of America).

Krieg, Joann P. A Whitman Chronology. Iowa City: Univerisity of Iowa Press, 1998.

scanned documents from: Gohdes, Clarence. and Rollo G. Silver. Faint Clews & Indirections Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family. Durham: Duke University Press, 1949.

Silver, Rollo G. Letters Written By Walt Whitman To His Mother 1866-1872. New York: Alfred F. Goldsmith, 1936.


Week One: The Beginnings- An Open Road With Walt Whitman

1. Specimen Days (713-725)

2. Write down three questions relating to Walt Whitman and/or the nineteenth century that you want to have answered by the end of this course.

3. Create a Blogger account and design a blog

Week Two: The Role of Women
Myrth, Jimmie Killingsworth, "Whitman and Motherhood: A Historical View." American Literature, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Mar., 1982), pp. 28-43

Arthur Wrobel, “Noble American Motherhood': Whitman, Women, and the Ideal Democracy.” American Studies 21.2 (1980): p7-25
3. Democratic Vistas p.990-1005
“Female Nurses For Soldiers” (778) from Specimen Day
Unfolded Out of the Folds” (515) Beautiful Women (413)

Week Three: A Woman's Power

1. Ceniza, Sherry “Whitman, Louisa Van Velsor [1795-1873]” - found in the Walt Whitman Archives

2. Chronology of Whitman's Life & Family Origins, A Brooklyn Childhood, & Long Island Interludes in Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price’s “Walt Whitman”- found in the Walt Whitman Archives

3. “Beautiful Women” (413)

4. “Mother and Babe” (413)

5. “A Woman Waits for Me” (258)

Week Four: Analysis of Letters

1. Selected Letters from Faint Clews & Indirections (Scanned Documents)

2. Selected Letters from Walt Whitman to His mother (Scanned Documents)

Week Five: Walt Whitman and His Mother’s Death

1. Pages 97-101 in Krieg’s A Whitman Chronology

2. “As at thy Portals Also Death” (604)

3. “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” (459)

4. “Adieu to a Soldier” (456)

Course Requirements:

Attendance & Participation: You are expected to attend every class and arrive on time. Prior to class you must complete all the readings in order to participate in discussion.

20% of Grade

Responses to Prompts: You are required to write a detailed prompt and post it to your blog before class time. Minimum length requirement: 650 words

- 20% of Grade

Blogger: You will create a Blogger account through Google, and respond to the prompts in this forum. You will be required to maintain and update the layout and content of your blog weekly.

- 15% of Grade

Research Paper: You will write a 8-10 page research paper focusing on nineteenth century America (Example Topics include: What are the religious beliefs and attitudes? Describe the political system? Societal Norms? Education and the nineteenth century? Rising Technology during the nineteenth century?)

-20% of Grade

Annotation of Letter: You will provide a rich annotation of a letter between Walt Whitman and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman. Focus on style, content, form, voice, historical references. Include in the analysis outside criticism. This assignment is different than week three’s prompt because you are required to make an argument about the letter, include photographs and video depicting the historical references.

-10% of Grade

Group Video: You will create a 4-5 minute video in which you creatively perform/read one of the letters from. Faint Clews & Indirections Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family or Letters Written By Walt Whitman To His Mother 1866-1872.

-10% of Grade

Reflection Paper: 2-3 page paper in which you reflect on the question: “How has your perspective of Walt Whitman changed after completing this course study?” Include in this paper the answers to your three questions that you asked at the beginning of the course.

-5% of Grade

Organization of Course:

Because this course is a short studies seminar we are only focusing on one aspect of Walt Whitman, his womanly side. This course is highly focused on literary analysis and all of the poetry readings from Walt Whitman: Complete Poetry and Collected Prose are taken from the 1891-92 edition of Leaves of Grass. We are using this edition because of the accessibility and ease of reference via page numbers and titles. We begin the course with a general overview about Whitman’s childhood and personal recollections by examining Specimen Days in order to understand general background knowledge about Walt Whitman and his family’s relationship. In order to place Whitman into the context in which he wrote, we will then examine common nineteenth century notions regarding women and their place in society. After understanding the reality of nineteenth century America we will examine the extent Whitman reflects or denies these common traditions throughout his poetry and prose during week two and three. We will then zoom into the personal relationship between Whitman and his mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, as evident in their correspondence. We will continue our in depth analysis of Whitman and his mother’s relationship by comparing the representation of her death with other individuals with whom Whitman respected. Many of the course assignments utilize emerging media and technology in order to advance students online social media knowledge. Through the group video and Blogger site collaboration with peers will be required. The research paper assignment allows students to study the context in which Whitman was writing and foster an understanding of America’s beliefs and values in the nineteenth century. In order to understand the bigger picture of this specific studies course, students will reflect on how their understanding of Walt Whitman has developed throughout the five week course.

Slide 7


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