FYS183 Syllabus

Warm Regards and That’s All: on letter writing

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”

— Phyllis Theroux

“Life would split apart without letters.”

— Virginia Woolf

Class Meetings:  TR 12:30 – 1:45 (Trexler Library Curriculum Lab)


Tina Hertel (she/her)
see Canvas for additional contact
Office: Trexler Library, B-Level
Drop-In Sessions:  Tues 4-5pm; Thurs 10-11am or by appointment

Annalise Christie ’26 (she/her)
Writing Assistant

Susan Falciani Maldonado (she/her)
Special Collections & Archives Librarian

Tim Clarke (he/him)
Digital Learning Librarian

Course Overview

Warm Regards and That’s All: on Letter Writing 

When was the last time you sat down and wrote—not typed but “pen and paper” wrote—a letter to someone? Received a letter? This seminar will examine the history, psychology, and art of letter-writing and other epistolary formats. We will discuss the extent to which, as some cultural critics claim, letter-writing is dying and what implications that might have for our culture. But we will also consider alternative possibilities—that, rather than dying, letter writing is assuming new and vital forms. We will look at letter-writing as a cultural practice, explore famous letters in their historical context, learn about who writes letters and why, appreciate epistolary fiction, and analyze the impact of digital technology on this communication format. We will use the epistolary practice of online journaling to deepen our understanding as we explore, analyze and discuss a wide range of letters and other epistolary practices. And yes, there will be some actual letter-writing!

Course Learning Goals

  • Understand the historical, psychological, and artistic aspects of letter writing that shape cultures and experiences.
  • Appreciate the practice and nature of letter writing in various forms. 
  • Utilize both written and oral communication as means of learning and discovery.
  • Develop critical reading skills and analytical writing skills.
  • Develop critical reasoning and thinking skills through rhetorical analysis. 
  • Effectively locate, analyze, evaluate, and share information using emerging and established technologies.
  • Employ writing as a method to generate new ideas and understanding.

This course meets the FY/W for Muhlenberg’s curriculum general academic requirements.

Expectations and Responsibilities

It is my intent that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well served by this course, that students’ learning needs be addressed both in and out of class, and that the diversity that students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. It is my intent to present materials and activities that are respectful of diversity: gender, sexuality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, and culture. Your suggestions are encouraged and appreciated. Please let me know ways to improve the effectiveness of the course for you personally or for other students or student groups. 

As we cover a wide and diverse range of topics, some are often difficult, not just intellectually but emotionally. While I expect there to be rigorous discussion and even disagreement in the course of our class discussions, I ask that you engage in discussion with care and empathy for the other members in the classroom. Aim to disagree without becoming disagreeable. In this class we will not shy away from the uncomfortable. Critically examining and assessing our most basic assumptions and values is not just one of the tasks of philosophy but is an activity vital to living an authentic life. I urge you to have the courage to wrestle with the uncomfortable in this class. In exchange for your courage, I will work to ensure a classroom environment that supports your taking these intellectual and emotional risks.

As a Muhlenberg student taking this First Year Seminar, I have the following expectations: 

  • I will attend all sections.  While I am aware that obligations or illnesses may cause some sections to be missed, this course is designed as a seminar so much of the learning takes place during our class discussions and activities. 
  • I will be prepared for each class by carefully reading all assignments.  As a prepared student, I will be able to ask informed questions and contribute to our discussions.
  • I will utilize my blog on a regular basis. 
  • I will attend assigned film viewings, meetings with Annalise, and relevant campus events unless there is a formal (e.g. class, athletics, or job-related work hours) conflict.  Conflicts should be communicated to the instructor prior to the event so that alternatives can be worked out in advance.   

Fourth Hour of Instruction

In accordance with the July 1, 2011 Credit Hours provision of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, expectations are that a full semester course comprises four instructional hours per week. This class is scheduled to meet for 3 hours per week. Additional instructional activities for our class will consist of regular meetings with the Writing Assistant or Course Instructor, meetings with Writing Center staff, film viewings, and attendance at relevant campus events or local events. These activities will add an additional 14 hours of instruction to meet this requirement.

Texts and Resources

Specific readings/assignments for each class will be posted on the course site in Canvas and on our website. Additionally, this course will make use of Internet sources.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a critical aspect of your education here and beyond college. Your growth as a learner and as a citizen in today’s society depend on you developing your own thoughts and knowledge. You should be familiar with, and at all times adhere to Muhlenberg’s Academic Integrity Code. By posting your work on your blog you are pledging that is your work alone. Students found to break the AIC will receive a zero on the assignment and will be reported to the Dean of Academic Life (which may lead to a failing grade for the course and/or suspension or dismissal from the College). If you have questions or concerns about how the AIC applies to work in this class, I am happy to discuss this with you.

Campus Resources

In addition to the instructor, writing assistant, and contacts mentioned above, the following campus resources are available to support your success:

Resources for Disability or Special Needs

Students with disabilities requesting classroom or course accommodations must complete a multi-faceted determination process through the Office of Disability Services prior to the development and implementation of accommodations, auxiliary aids, and services. Each Accommodation Plan is individually and collaboratively developed between the student and the Office of Disability Services. If you have not already done so, please contact the Office of Disability Services to have a dialogue regarding your academic needs and the recommended accommodations, auxiliary aides, and services.

Students experiencing Financial Hardship

If you are experiencing financial hardship, have difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or do not have a safe and stable place to live, and believe this may affect your performance in this course, I would urge you to contact our CARE Team, through the Dean of Students Office, for support. You may also discuss your concerns with me if you are comfortable doing so.

Academic Calendar and Important Dates

The full Academic Calendar is available, the following are some key dates to keep in mind:

  • August 28 – Classes start 
  • September 1 – Last day add/drop 
  • September 25 – No classes, YomKippur
  • October 7-9 – Fall Break  
  • October 20 – Mid-semester grades 
  • November  3 – Last day to withdraw (W)
  • November 16 – Registration for First Years
  • November 17 – Open Registration
  • November 22-26 – Thanksgiving Break
  • December 8 – Classes end
  • December 15 – Finals end
  • Religious Holidays / Observations

Course Requirements and Grading

Information on each assignment will be posted on the course site, as will course grades. 

Class Attendance & Participation (150 points)

A vital component of the course is attendance and class participation. The course will be discussion based and it is important to hear multiple perspectives on a topic. It is extremely important to attend class and participate in class discussions. Some discussions may elicit strong feelings and attitudes. It is extremely important to keep an open mind and to appreciate diversity in opinions. It is essential that we respect each other in these discussions. Discussions and participation will also take place using Hypothes.is. 

Tech Set-up  (50 points)

Create a Hypothes.is account. Create your own domain/website.

Journaling/Blogging (150 points)

In keeping with the epistolary theme of the class, you will journal each week about the readings and activities for that week. 

Comments / Discussions / Hypothes.is (100 points)

Each week you will also need to comment on and discuss each other’s posts.

Letter Assignments (100 points / 25 points each)

Throughout the semester you will be writing four personal letters. Each assignment will be a different type of letter to a different audience.    

Letter Writing Papers and Presentations (200 points / 50 points each)

There will be two separate assignments throughout the semester to write short papers/essays on various aspects of letter writing, as well as give presentations on your papers. You will be able to research two different aspects of letter writing that we cover in class. One area will focus on World War II and the other will be on a letter or author of your chosing, where you will also do background research on the writer, recipient, and/or context of your chosen letter.

Creative Writing/Epistolary Fiction (100 points)

A creative writing assignment where students will write a short story that either has a basis from a letter in class or is written in the epistolary form.   

Job Search / Cover Letter (50 points)

This will be a two-part assignment. The first part will be researching a career field and the second part will be applying for a job in that career field by writing a cover letter. 

Process Letters (100 points / 50 points each)

Once around midterm grades and once at the end of the semester, you will write a process letter about what you’ve learned and how your writing process has developed.    


The final course grade will be determined as follows:

  • 930-1000 A
  • 900-929 A-
  • 870-899 B+
  • 830-869 B
  • 800-829 B-
  • 760-799 C+
  • 730-759 C
  • 700-729 C-
  • 650-699 D
  • Below 650 F
  • **Late assignments will be penalized 5 points per day late (including weekends).

Topic Outline

Week 1: Course Intro / Tech Set-up
Week 2: WWII Communication / Muhlenberg Special Collections
Week 3: WWII Japanese Internment Letters
Week 4: WWII Last Letters from the Holocaust
Week 5: WWII Love Letters
Week 6: WWII Epistolary Fiction
Week 7: Presentations
Week 8: Short Stories / Forged Letters
Week 9: Famous Letters / Pick Your Own Letter
Week 10: Pen Pals
Week 11: Open Letters / Cover Letters
Week 12: Illustrated Letters
Week 13: Multimedia Letters / Letters in other formats
Week 14: Presentations
Week 15: Wrap up and Closing Thoughts