Planning the First Year Seminar on Mark Twain

Meander Map of a Section of the Lower Mississippi River

Meander Map of a Section of the Lower Mississippi River

I am taking time out from my research for a bit to plan my first year seminar on Mark Twain for this fall.  I am excited about the course–about the opportunity to learn more about Twain myself and the opportunity that my students will have to study his writing.

I have made a few decisions, but many more remain.


Students will read a few short pieces, the serial “Old TImes on the Mississippi,” The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson.

In addition, they will view the Ken Burns PBS Documentary on Twain and read some biographical and critical pieces.

Students will complete assignments on critical reading, write reading responses in and out of class, discuss Twain’s writing in class, write a short paper, write a longer paper using research to support their analysis and conclusions, and present their research and ideas on the final exam day, likely in pecha kucha style.

Not Yet Decided

I have not nailed down all the short pieces students will be reading, though I do know that they will include “A True Story” and will probably include “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog.”

As for biographical and introductory pieces, I have not decided on a particular book, although I may order Larzer Ziff’s Oxford Press book, Mark Twain, which is an overall appreciation of Twain, rather than a full-on biography.  It has the virtue of being fairly succinct but still useful in coming to terms with Twain’s life in four key areas: celebrity, tourist, novelist, and humorist.  If I do not order this text, then I may offer sections of it on reserve.  I’m still up in the air on this one, though.

In terms of the longer paper, I am still weighing options.  It’s typical in a class like this to ask for a longer, interpretive essay in the classic literary analysis and argument mode, a sustained interpretation of a text or texts.  I am not at all sure I want to do that in this class, so I am considering other possibilities.  I may share those at a later time.

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