Section Information for Spring 2017
Phrases like “Taken from her mouth” and “The True Narrative of…” are splashed across the title pages of innumerable texts written in the early American period. Like viewers of reality television today, readers in both Europe and the Americas were eager for first hand accounts of experiences and emotional ordeals that they found both strange and familiar. Encounters with native Americans, disputes among colonists, the success of commercial and religious endeavors, the trepidations, stumbles, and successes of individuals “in the wilderness,” and the debates and celebrations of the American revolution and early national period all found a ready audience on both sides of the Atlantic. Also like reality television, these narratives were constructed in ways that reflected the assumptions and interests of those writing, publishing, and reading these texts. They were not objective records of life in the Americas, even when they professed to be so. In this class we will discuss texts from across the Americas that show individuals and communities constructing themselves in the early centuries of European settlement in the western hemisphere. We will read the works of cons, criminals, and captives as well as explorers, founders, and “saints,” considering as we do so how different ways of engaging the land and social space called the “New World” or the “Americas” in the colonial and federalist periods shape various literary representations of what it is to be American.