Course Overview

LETTERS TO THE WORLD: Self and the Evidence of Experience
ENGL 1102, Sections K5, F1, N9
Georgia Tech, Spring 2017


Lauren Neefe /
Office hours: By appointment (email me with a few proposed times)

Section K5: TTR 8:05–9:25am / Hall 103

  • Portfolios due on Thurs. 5/4 by 5:40pm 

Section F1: TTR 9:35–10:55am / Skiles 168

  • Portfolios due on Tues. 5/2 by 5:40pm

Section N9: TTR 12:05–1:25pm / CULC 325

  • Portfolios due on Thurs. 5/4 by 10:50am


“Judge tenderly of me,” Emily Dickinson writes at the end of “This is my letter to the world,” one of her best-known poems. Before social media, texting, Skype, or even telephones, people used letters at once to communicate across distances, conduct business, and to document their lives. Important cultural figures were celebrated with the publication of their “life in letters.” Yet, as Dickinson’s verse implies, the publication of letters as evidence of historical fact and individual experience invites public scrutiny. At the same time, it calls into question the authenticity and reliability of the letters’ contents. Building on the WOVEN strategies of composition and process you began to develop in ENGL 1101, this course will survey examples of letters in prose and verse from the “epistolary moment” of the eighteenth century as well as autobiographical works in which letters figure prominently, including Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015), Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho and Letters from an American Farmer by J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur (both published in 1782), and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs (1861). Additional, contextualizing readings will be read and examined in class, including edited collections that illuminate the importance of the material (physical, objective, historical, institutional) properties of letters. These include Without Sanctuary (2000), from an exhibit of photographs and postcards of the lynchings of African-Americans in the mid–twentieth century andand Gorgeous Nothings (2013), about Emily Dickinson’s “envelope poems.” You will be asked to compose four letters in various media in imitation of the letters represented in the course readings. You will also be asked to apply what you learn about the formal, rhetorical, and material strategies of letters, the audience(s) they address, and the networks they describe in research-based presentations and essays.

In addition to those outcomes determined by the Writing and Communication Program and Georgia Tech more generally (available for public viewing here), the following learning outcomes may be expected in this course:

> Understanding of the formal, rhetorical, and material characteristics of letters, both individually and as collected in edited correspondence and historical archives

> Critical understanding of the special problems letters pose as evidence of personal experience, historical fact, and social/cultural discourse

> Strategies for researching and presenting various kinds of context to make sense of an object of study (i.e., a text) and analyze its significance

> Ability to apply the greater awareness of the kinds of ethos practiced in letter writing, editing, sending, and publishing to your own present-day communications and rhetorical situations

You should bring your laptop as well as paper and pencil/pen to every class.

You should have access to the Microsoft Office software suite and the Adobe Design suite, either on your computer or via one of the university’s media labs.


All texts below should be free. We will be making paper with signature watermarks that you design at the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking. The cost and labor of making paper may require a $15 fee.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (audio book). I’ve linked to the audio book read by the author, available on free with a 30-day trial.

Ignatius Sancho, ed. Frances Crew(e), Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an Africanvol. I (letters I–LXV).

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Letters from an American FarmerI, III, IX, XII.

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Additional readings will be listed on this site’s course Schedule. They will be available by link on the course schedule and on Course Reserves at the Library Information Desk.