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Too little in the past has the importance of American literature been heeded by the faculty of Harvard. With the sudden departure of Bernard De Voto the last vestige of a modern American literature course disappeared. For the current year English 70 has been discontinued, and when it is resumed in February of 1938, there is no telling what changes the mysterious withdrawal of Harvard's Whistler will have wrought. His flight from Harvard caused regret among many students and gave rise to renewed criticism of the administration. It would seem that nothing can be done now to right the wrong in Mr. De Voto's apparent conflict with the University last spring.
Nevertheless, for a major contribution to the development of American civilization, which President Conant seemed to favor in his Tercentenary speeches, emphasis on American literature in Harvard appears essential. One full and one half course in this field are scarcely enough to teach the present generation the indicative traditions of their forefathers.
One way to stress our literature is to add more courses to the college curriculum, but since no authority like Mr. De Voto flourishes in the English Department, and perhaps not one in the country whom Harvard could adopt into its colorless brood, this suggests the improbable. A similar alternative, not to be regarded as final, is to improve as much as possible the existing courses. Toward the accomplishment of this the heads of English 7 are making a definite move.
To interpret and correlate the material presented in the reading and bi-weekly lectures, optional sectional meetings will be held on Saturdays. These meetings will deal with the week's reading and answer questions of a general nature. It is to the credit of Professor Matthiessen that he disdains frequent quizzes and hour exams, for though they might raise the level of future knowledge in the course, they would destroy the freedom now offered to the student. The purpose of the Saturday classes, then, is not to discipline a man's work, but to better his grasp of the subject. In no manner compulsory, they are to be managed by the two capable assistants in English 7.
Such a reform by faculty members interested in the advancement of American literature at Harvard promises much for the future. It is to be hoped this simple step forward will lead to more improvements along the same lines and that some day American literature may become a department in its own right, as important as that of English literature.
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