LIST REVIEW:American Literature On-Line (AMLIT-L)

Reviewed by James A. Inman

Quoted references in this review are taken from the Directory of Scholarly Electronic Conferences

Intended Audience

AMLIT-L is intended generally for those with an interest in American literature. Discussions are usually scholarly in nature; however, the list is not limited just to scholars in the field. The Directory of Scholarly Electronic Conferences, in fact, notes that AMLIT-L welcomes both "students and scholars" of American literature. All related disciplines are welcome as well.

List Membership

Currently at more than 1150 members, the AMLIT-L population is large, yet friendly. Mostly in the summer, but also during Christmas and other breaks, discussion slows significantly. Few subscribers post regularly, as discussions are often quite diverse; instead, members often wait for discussions to arise within their areas of interest, meaning that most of the listmembers are lurkers.

As would be expected, the majority of the subscribers are affiliated with educational institutions, as indicated by the"edu" component of their e-mail addresses. Of interest is the fact that few institutions have a large number of subscribers; the University of Missouri, home to AMLIT-L, has the most with approximately twenty. Other large schools include the University of Iowa, the University of Pennsylvania, Indiana University, the University of Michigan, Duke University, and Princeton University. Community colleges and smaller academic institutions are also well-represented.

A number of other parties, including corporate and military members, is represented. Of these subscribers, more than forty connect through America Online, and more than twenty connect through a service called Netcom. These parties often post to the list to share their opinions within threads or to ask for reading suggestions, and their contributions are welcomed.


The tone that most often emerges on AMLIT-L is one of excitement and genuine interest in American Literature. When topics are proposed, responses are most often quick and helpful. Many times, academic queries, like requests for reading recommendations or requests for syllabi selections, are posted, and these calls for information almost always net a variety of helpful responses. This past year, I queried listmembers about ways they were using technology in the classroom, and I received 12 responses, including 5 very detailed overviews of technology-based programs and classes.

It would be unfair for me not to mention that, while almost always friendly and conducive to active and engaging discussion, the list may venture to less tolerant discussion at times. A thread from this past year's discussion, in which listmembers debated who should post to the list and what material is appropriate for posting, well delineates the various tones of the list. The centerpiece of the lengthy discussion was a number of essentially basic queries about literature from high school students. AMLIT-L typically plays host to many queries for information; however, it was the basic nature of the queries in question which spurred an active debate. Some listmembers felt that they should not be a resource for queries that were easily answered elsewhere, like the library. Other members felt very strongly that, while the basic questions were frustrating at times, they should be posted to the list and that listmembers, as lovers of American Literature, should be delighted in others' interest. Ultimately, what resulted from the lengthy discussion was very little in terms of action, yet very much in terms of advocacy. Practical suggestions, like the creation of a FAQ for posting reference, were offered and are, to the best of my knowledge, still under consideration.

A Week in the Life

For the week of July 13-July 20, 1996, thirteen messages were bounced to AMLIT-L subscribers. Two threads essentially were followed and represented ten of the thirteen messages: remorse as a mitigating factor in literature and classical music in literature. The remorse thread was carried over from the previous week, when Daniel Zellman of the University of Illinois at Chicago queried listmembers for literary situations depicting a criminal's remorse affecting his punishment for a crime. The classical music thread, a new discussion, was initiated by Howell Burnell, who was seeking fiction titles for characters or stories dealing with classical music.

For the week, three other messages were submitted. These were a request for information about Tracks, a novel being considered by Chris Doran of Indiana University; an announcement from Ryota Iijima about a Theodore Dreiser Web Site; and a request from Caroline Nachman for Tom Robbins reading recommendations.


If you have an interest in American Literature of any period, you should consider subscribing to AMLIT-L. The listmembers are courteous and helpful, and they display a love and enthusiasm for American Literature that would attract most interested parties. Discussion is diverse and interesting, and opinions are regarded respectfully and thoughtfully. As with any productive discussion list, disagreements do occur; however, these differences are handled professionally. AMLIT-L is well-moderated by Michael O'Conner and should appeal also to those with interests in African-American literature, Latin American literature, AmericanStudies, and Cultural Studies.

Membership Information

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