The colonial period is set between 1607 and 1765. Mmajor historical characters of the period include Jonathan Edwards, William Bradford, Anne Bradstreet, Cotton Mather and Benjamin Franklin. Research paper topics can center on plantation life and the influence of Puritan self-government in colonial America. Students can focus their writings on the education and instructional advice each author promotes within the works produced during this time.
The revolutionary period of 1765 to 1789 is steeped in American ideology on the definition of freedom. Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" is arguably the most explored work by American literature students. English professors often assign academic papers that require students to compare the views and ideals expressed within Paine's work with that of the ideals of the "Declaration of Independence." Students also can choose to write papers on the works of Phillis Wheatley, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Nationalism and Romanticism
The American citizenry began to adopt a sense of nationalism between 1789 and 1830. Students in American literature classes read about James Fenimore Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans" and the works of Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant. Research paper topics can center on transcendentalism, and students can explore man's struggle with colonial ideals as a wilderness motif within their papers. The subject of how Bryant's work influenced Abraham Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation" is another common assignment.
The American Renaissance is a period in literary history -- set between 1830 and 1870 -- in which Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson are major characters. Research paper topics for American literature often provide opportunities for instructors to assign papers on Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter." Students can write papers on symbolism, moral ambiguity and views of attitudes toward women of the period, or they can compare Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" with Martin Luther King's "A Letter from Birmingham Jail."
African Influence and Realism
The Africans' struggle with colonial ideals is expressed by popular literary characters such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. The Rise of Realism is an American literature period set between 1870 and 1914. Douglass arouses the reader's sympathy as he promotes humanitarianism in his work "My Bondage and My Freedom." English students can choose paper topics on the impact of the Underground Railroad in the United States, as well as woman's suffrage and African American spirituals or Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
Contemporary American Literature
The Contemporary American Literature period is set between 1914 and the present. Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes are major literary characters that English instructors use to explore the period. Research paper topics for American literature can explore the lives of common people and social perception in poetic forms. Students have the option of exploring how poets perceive God, creation and life by focusing on a literary work's tone, imagery and choice of language. Writers can also explore the short works of William Faulkner.