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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor
Heath Orientation
by Paul Lauter and Lois Leveen

Instructors choosing an anthology for their courses and students enrolling in courses that use The Heath Anthology of American Literature may well wonder, why this anthology? When the Heath, as it has come to be called, first came out in 1989 it was both a symbol and a tool. It symbolized the desire among many teachers, critics, and students to study the full range of the literatures produced in America rather than the very limited number of works that had come to be known as the "literary canon." And it provided a tool, in the form of a diverse collection of literary works, for broadening our view of the authors and texts worth reading and thinking about. The Heath challenged all of us to respond to earlier movements for social change that had asked of our classrooms, our curricula, our textbooks questions like "where are the minorities?" "where are the women?" And once these voices began to be heard, new questions arose, like "what differences did difference make?" and "how would our understanding of all American culture be transformed by their inclusion in the cultural conversation"?

Today's Heath maintains its emphasis on the multiple origins and histories of the cultures of the United States and on the need to see literary works in relation to the particular historical circumstances in which they appeared, were circulated, and read. But we are increasingly interested in the ongoing conversations among these cultures; how they engage with and influence one another; whether (as Bartolomeo Vanzetti put it) some voices "must speak loudly to be heard" while others "have only to whisper and even be silent to be understood"; and just how these conversations have come to define America as plural, complex, heterogeneous—a chorus, perhaps, rather than a melting pot. We have emphasized works that illustrate how the borders between these cultures were, and have remained, places of political and cultural tension but also permeable, open to interaction and change. We have striven not only to clarify regional and cultural differences but to offer more of a hemispheric view, while maintaining the focus necessary to most courses on the literatures of what is now the United States. We think these reconfigurations open opportunities to think differently about how national identities are constructed, not only in the past but in today's global city—national identities that have been constituted sometimes in ways that have engaged admiration and hope, sometimes by "designs of darkness to appall," to ring a change on Frost's memorable line.

The new Heath also is fashioned to raise a number of questions increasingly on the agenda of literary and cultural study. These include the fundamental issue of what defines the "literary," how, indeed whether, it might be distinguished from other forms of writing, what we mean when we talk of the aesthetic value of a work. We have therefore widened the range of genres included in the anthology, for example by adding novels, extending our inclusion of popular cultural forms like songs, and offering a full repertoire of the variety of compositions used to construct a "republic of letters," especially during the first 400 years of the advent of European writing technologies in the Americas. We have also looked hard at works to ask about the changing ways in which certain literary texts challenge and attract readers' responses while others strike us as "weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable."

Having answered the first question, "why The Heath Anthology?" helps us answer a corollary question, why the Heath web site? The Heath has long offered electronic resources for teachers, with the belief, as Randy Bass has noted, that "it is not merely that new electronic tools are useful to support the The Heath Anthology, but to support the Heath's project. That is, there is a real, fundamental and logical connection between the tools of electronic textuality and knowledge on the one hand, and new forms of pedagogy, course organizations, and strategies of reading implied by The Heath Anthology on the other." This perspective remains as insightful today as when it was written to accompany the previous Heath web site.

This edition of the Heath is published coincident with a level of internet access by instructors and students unanticipated just a few years ago. Our web site has been designed to serve as a continual complement to the print volume for both students and instructors (for details on components of the site and how best to use them, see the Site Orientation). The site gives students contextual information, including links to visual and audio resources, to help them better understand the materials in the print volume, and it suggests useful web sites for further research on each author. Instructors will find both resources to explore directly with their students and access to an online community of educators who share ideas for lesson plans and assignments. We invite all instructors to submit their own suggestions for teaching materials in the Heath, so that the site continues to expand, incorporating fresh approaches to using the print volumes. While instructors and students might spend class time examining resources on our site, students can also use the site outside the classroom, to strengthen their own authority in thinking about texts in the Heath. As teachers and students strive to understand entries in the Heath not as isolated literary works but as pieces in a web of literary and cultural productions, historical events, political movements, and social realities, this site provides technological links to underscore that web of connections. The development of these electronic resources furthers the Heath's commitment to curricular innovation, and in particular to facilitating improvements in what we read and how we read it, and in what we teach and how we teach it.


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