Classroom Activities: 

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Analyzing the Historical Context of American Romanticism

Lesson Overview:

Overview: In small groups, students will analyze a primary source set from the late 1700s and early 1800s to draw conclusions about the historical context in which American Romanticism literature was written. Additionally, the students will compare and contrast this historical context with the previously studied historical context and literary period of Colonial and Revolutionary literature. Finally students will infer how this historical context might be reflected in the American Romanticism literature. 
Grade Range: 9-12

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

  • Independently complete a primary source analysis tool.
  • Infer three possible characteristics of American Romanticism literature based on the conclusions from the primary source set.
Time Required: Two class periods of 45 minutes.
Discipline/Subject: Literature
Topic/Subject: Immigration, American Expansion and Literature
Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815 and National Expansion and Reform, 1815-1860



Illinois Learning Standards:  

Common Core Standards:

Rl.11-12.7 and RH.11-12.7-Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
RH.11-12.2.-Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

RH.11-12.5-Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
RH.11-12.9-Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.



Handouts: Literary Time Period Compare/Contrast Tool (print page 3 of PDF), Inferred Characteristics of New Literary Time Period (print page 4 of PDF).
Analysis Tools Map AnalysisWritten Document AnalysisLetter AnalysisMore You Look Photo Analysis
Books: Elements of Literature: Fifth Course Holt, Rinehart, Winston
Library of Congress Items: Title of Source:A new map for travelers through the United States of America showing the railroads, canals & stage road with the distances by J. Calvin Smith
  Title of Source:The United States of America laid down from the best authorities, agreeable to the Peace of 1783. Wallis John
  Title of Source:New York, with the city of Brooklyn in the distance, from the steeple of the St. Paul's church, looking east, south and west
  Title of Source:Thomas Jefferson to Congress, January 18, 1803
  Title of Source:Notes on a journey in America: from the coast of Virginia to the territory of Illinois. Birkbeck, Morris
  Title of Source:Health reporter. Thursday, July 26, 1832, 10 o'clock. The Board of Health reports 141 cases of cholera & 55 deaths, since July 25 10 A.M. viz.. Printed and published by A. Bling, No. 9 Canal-st corner of Elm st





Divide students into groups of five or six. Hand out introduction to American Romanticism Primary Source Set (primary sources and analysis tools). Each student chooses a primary source to  analyze independently with the corresponding analysis tool (if only five in a group, remove one of the three maps).

Map AnalysisWritten Document AnalysisLetter AnalysisMore You Look Photo Analysis

2. After independently completing the primary source analysis, each student presents his/her primary source and analysis to the group.
3. After each group member has presented, the group will compare/contrast the American Romanticism primary sources with the characteristics of the Colonial/Revolutionary literary time period, which they will have just finished studying (page 3 of PDF).
4. Each group will infer three possible characteristics of American Romanticism literature based on the conclusions from the primary source set, which will be noted on the Literary Time Period Compare/Contrast Tool (page 4 of PDF).
5. Each group will report the three possible characteristics to the class. These will be noted on chart paper or in a SmartBoard file. Students will then compare these possible characteristics with the introductory information presented in the textbook.



Individual students will be evaluated on the completion of the analysis tools. Each group will be evaluated on the completion of the Compare/Contrast tool.


Refer to the list of student-generated characteristics while reading each selection from the American Romanticism Literary Time Period to identify characteristics of the primary sources within the texts. Create a primary source set for each American literary time period to use as an introduction to each unit.

Author Credits:
K. Runyon
Charleston High School