- PEDAGOGICAL ROUNDTABLE:Teaching Early American Literature (Five Years Later)
In the introduction to Teaching the Literatures of Early America, published in 1999, Carla Mulford emphasized the nexus of scholarship and teaching that informs the daily work of most readers of EAL. Professor Mulford argued that we study in "an era of shifting geopolitical boundaries and tremendous movements of populations and cultures across the globe" (1), an era that provokes scholars to reexamine the terms by which we name and delimit the field of "Early" (with "its decided chronological bias") "American" (whose "national identity" is "questionable") Studies. The collection not only opened a broad discussion of theoretical and multidisciplinary questions but it also provided scholar-teachers with specific courses and syllabi through which those questions might be taught. Moreover, the final contribution, Professor Edward J. Gallagher's "Resources for Early American Studies," offered a model for subsequent databases produced primarily for teachers.
Currently, early American scholars searching for ways to integrate our research with our teaching might turn to "SEApage," the website of the Society of Early Americanists (http://www.hnet.uci.edu/mclark/seapage.htm): the site posts nearly a hundred syllabi, bibliographies, links to other electronic resources, student assignments, web projects, graphics, and study aids under its "Teaching Early American Topics" link. Consulting the "Topics" link, online readers are also directed to five articles concerning pedagogy. This conversation about what, how, and why we teach has most often been held in the interstices of our scholarly gatherings, the informal yet deeply meaningful talk about how to connect our own interests and passions with our students'. So it was only slightly surprising to conveners when a call for papers for a pedagogy panel at the 2003 ALA conference resulted in so many responses that two of SEA's three panels were dedicated to the topic. This Roundtable, which includes four of the eight papers delivered [End Page 341] at the ALA, continues the discussion that was initiated by Professor Mulford's collection five years ago and that has been sustained in many venues, actual and virtual, since then.
In presenting the following studies, we hope to offer another space for considering the links between early American scholarship and pedagogy. Although this is broad terrain, the studies converge on key points: the persistent problem of teaching students who have very little knowledge of historical context, students' struggle with unfamiliar language and rhetorical forms, and the crucial linkage of intellectual rigor with personal reflection. Each study engages these points with distinctive and innovative course design. Kristina Bross interrupts the familiar chronological march of a traditional survey by asking students "to read multidirectionally" in order to introduce them to "the pleasures of intertextuality." In a similar vein, Scott Peeples juxtaposes "Bob Dylan" with Cooke's sot-weed factor so that students may "experience," indeed, "comprehend," the early American poem by temporarily abandoning historical context for a "trans-historical" reading position. Emily Todd's students, whom she terms "reluctant readers" of early American autobiography, draw on interpretive practices they use as fiction readers to reconsider the "distant and dry" genre of personal narrative, a genre that, for them, appears to eschew the personal details they've come to expect. Finally, Pattie Cowell asks her students to leave the familiar turf of the classroom, and, as service learners, to make the connections between concepts advanced by Franklin, the Federalist, Douglass, and Stowe and the voices they hear in community work. This emphasis on voices extends the students' capacity for their own intellectual expression. Cowell's project, one that many of us share as teachers and scholars, is to help students to find "a way to take the aims and habits of humanist thinking into the messy, material world."
All the presenters at the 2003 ALA pedagogy panels were, in some way, indebted to the intellectual generosity that is a hallmark of the Early American Studies community. We sought to extend and elaborate on the conversations we have been sharing for many years, at our own colleges and universities, at conferences, over e-mail, in print. This Roundtable continues in that voluble tradition, one that asks again and again how as Early Americanists...