A country’s culture and literature develop in step with its history. Sometimes literature reflects the changing times, sometimes it predicts changes and sometimes it is even a catalyst for change in its own time.
Here are few examples of British and American texts in variouis genres and from various periods that you might want to use in your classes, should time permit.
The Reves Tale / The Reeve’s Tale
This text comes from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and is written in 14th-century English. Reading the original version should give you a good idea of just how much the English language has developed over the centuries. It is also typical of the type of story that was popular during this age.
The Ballad of Barbara Allen
A ballad is a song which tells a story, and this was the way news travelled in medieval England. This ballad is about love, or perhaps unrequited love, and its images and sad outcome are typical of its time.
God Save the Queen
“God Save the Queen” is the official national anthem of the United Kingdom and has been so since the late 1700s, although most often with the word “King” rather than “Queen”. The text gives the background story of the anthem.
The Chartist Outbreak
This is a newspaper report from a developing riot of citizens angry at the arrest of some Chartist activists in 1867. It informs us of the early beginning of what eventually became the Labour movement. It is also an early example of newspaper reporting.
The Diary of John Smith
This is a brief excerpt from the diary of Captain John Smith, recounting his meeting with Pocahontas and the manner in which she saved his life. It reflects the original English of the 17th century, though the spelling has been standardized.
The Star Spangled Banner
We present the lyrics of the national anthem of the United States and the circumstances under which it was written. Surprisingly, it was during one of the few wars that America has lost.
Letters from Norwegian Immigrants
These are 19th-century letters from Norwegian immigrants, translated into English and made available as first-hand texts. The voice from the past takes you on a transatlantic journey.
The Gettysburg Address
President Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech is an excellent example of clear, clean rhetoric. It was given at the consecration of the Gettysburg cemetery for soldiers who had fallen in the pivotal battle of the war.
Little Big Horn
This is the story of the famous defeat of General George Armstrong Custer at the hands of the Dakota Sioux, told from their point of view. All Custer’s troops were wiped out in one of the few major victories of the Native Americans in the long war for North America. The Sioux paid a terrible price for it.