In ENG 308: American Literature, a required course for the English major, students devote a considerable amount of time and effort to reflecting on and writing about U.S. literary texts. The writing in the course takes two complementary forms. About half of it consists of weekly Blackboard commentaries. These commentaries are contributions to an open forum in which students reflect on, analyze, and formulate ideas, as well as articulate questions, prior to class discussion. The second form writing takes in this course is less familiar to students and strikes them as riskier, but also more rewarding. In the Review Essay and the New York City Literary History Project, longer assignments that go through several drafts, students focus on public writing for digital audiences.
By writing and publishing Review Essays, students learn to exercise their role as critics. "Real" people will use their reviews to make decisions on what to read, watch, buy, and care about. Similarly, when they conduct a literary history project based in New York City and post it on the course website, their writing makes a contribution to the digital documentation of our city’s and region’s literary history. Internet users from near and afar will find their way to the site and read students’ work. Students explore how to address and engage this audience and reflect on how such writing differs from the writing assignments usually assigned in college humanities courses.