Editor's Introduction
"No Single Course"

Randy Bass, Georgetown University

One of the primary purposes of the Syllabus Builder software is to present some of the curricular models that faculty around the country have formulated in light of a radically expanded canon. As Paul Lauter points out in his Introduction to the "Teaching the American Literatures" series (included in Syllabus Builder), with the proliferation of "new" texts, there is now, more than ever, "no single American literature course." The absence of any clear paradigm around which to organize an introductory, non-specialized American literature course necessitates new methods of organizing and constellating texts; the growing recognition that there are multiple American traditions, multiple American communities, and of course, multiple American literatures, has led to a substantial revision in the content and rationale of the American literature curriculum.

A Canon of Issues

Perhaps one way to articulate the shift that has taken place in the basic American literature curriculum has been from a "canon of authors" to a "canon of issues." Whereas the field was once wholly organized around periods and authors (with an informal canon of themes and subthemes arising from that), the many syllabi gathered here often reveal an organization around key issues, usually in light of how very different kinds of texts address those issues in competing, or at least dialogic, ways. The syllabi here are generally characterized by productive mixes of canonical and noncanonical texts, traditionally literary and semi-literary genres, and expressive artifacts that are from multiple cultural traditions. The multiplicity of each syllabus, and of each unit, has meant the ebbing of units on "The Puritans," "The Age of Realism" and so forth, and the ascendence of a "loose canon" of coherent issues and problematics: Myths of Origins, Migration and Displacement, The Rise of Literacy, The Problem of Communal Government, The Construction of American Identities. Even the longer standing themes such as The American Dream or Individualism and Community more often than not cover a constellation of diverse and multi-ethnic renderings of those issues; twenty years ago those themes probably would have been presented through a much narrower kind of literature, and a much more homogenous line of authors represented as THE adversarial and critical tradition in American culture.

Of course, all these issues play out in different ways in different course contexts, with different emphases geared to differing student populations and institutional settings. The more than 30 syllabi reproduced here in Syllabus Builder have been selected and arranged to emphasize diversity, and to be of use to the widest possible range of American literature instructors. The courses are organized by types: Introductory courses in the early and later period, single term surveys, period courses, and a few special topics courses. The syllabi also represent a wide range of intsitutional types.

New Pedagogies

An essential part of this rethinking is the increasing appropriation of new teaching strategies that are in many ways a natural complement to changing canons and notions of textuality. As we increasingly choose to teach literatures outside the bounds of our training and upbringing, we need to keep experimenting with new strategies to enable our students to appreciate literatures from multiple contexts and cultures. As the course materials in Syllabus Builder (as well as the material in the Instructor's Guide to the Heath Anthology of American Literature) demonstrate, new literatures demand new pedagogies, organized as much around the idea of giving students tools for a kind of "textual literacy," as the content of literary history or literary tradition.

Many of the teaching methods and strategies discussed throughout Syllabus Builder are responsive to the challenges of the new literatures by being both "student-centered" and "process centered." By "student-centered," I mean those pedagogies that put the student, rather than the instructor, in the center of the classroom, helping students to take responsibility for contextualizing and representing material that may at first seem quite distant or opaque.

Some Student-Centered Pedagogies in Syllabus Builder:

The "process-centered" pedagogies represented throughout Syllabus Builder are, of course, part of the now very established principles of process-oriented writing that characterize the field of composition and writing instruction. The pedagogical challenges of new literary canons have reinforced the successful beachhead that these teaching methods have established at the core of Literature Departments. Predictably, these strategies are deeply integral to courses represented throughout Syllabus Builder.

Some Process-Centered Pedagogies in Syllabus Builder:

In addition to these two groups of what might be called the "new" pedagogies, the courses and Instructor's Guide entries in Syllabus Builder offer scores of ideas for quizzes, short and long paper topics (including research projects), and midterm and final examination questions.

Overall, the main idea behind Syllabus Builder--and all the electronic resources for the third edition of the Heath Anthology of American Literature--is to create a seamless resource where teachers can move easily among pedagogical, methodological, and critical resources. The beauty of a hypertext teaching resource is that the nature of the information environment can mimic the complexity of teaching knowledge itself: multiple points of entry, multiple paths of interest. Whether one begins with a syllabus and works to pedagogies, or begins with a particular pedagogy, discovers a syllabus, and ends up in the Instructor's Guide material on less familiar authors, the fundamental hypertextuality of teaching knowledge is the core of the experience.

Syllabus Builder as it exists here is the core of what we expect to be an evolving and collaborative resource. We hope that you find it a rich resource as it is; we also hope you will help make it richer in the future.

Randy Bass
Washington, D.C.
November 1997

Heath Anthology