Commonplace


Just Teach One

Pairings

Jordan Alexander Stein

Fordham University

For some years I have kept in rotation a course called “Literature and Politics in the Early US, 1774­–1801.”  The course is modeled after Cathy Davidson’s The Revolution and the Word and aims to show students that in the early US political tracts (often authored by men) and sentimental novels (often authored by women) participated in the same conversations about individualism, rights, and social forms.  Pairing political and literary texts in each unit, the course demonstrates how literary texts can be read politically and political texts can be read rhetorically.  Representative pairings include The Federalist with The Power of Sympathy, Rights of Man with The Coquette, and Alcuin with Wieland.

In the spirit of this syllabus, including Humanity in Algiers required that I also include a political text with some thematic similarities, and I chose the 1786 “Barbary” treaties between the United States and Morocco.   Standing behind this choice (more…)

Negotiating Expectations

Melissa Gniadek

 Rice University

I was not sure what to expect when I incorporated Humanity in Algiers into my course on American Literature to 1860 this semester.  We read the text fairly early in the semester but we had already encountered traditions of travel and captivity in other texts, so I imagined that students would have a firm sense of those contexts.  We had read Philip Barnard and Stephen Shapiro’s edition of Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly, an edition that makes much of the novel’s international dimensions and various subplots that highlight imperialism and commerce, and I thought that those themes might productively resonate with Humanity in Algiers.  Slavery had not yet been an explicit focus of too many texts, but we would soon turn to Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer and the horrific scene at the end of Letter 9.  Excerpts from David Walker’s Appeal and Frederick Douglass’s Narrative would follow a bit later in the semester.  Humanity in Algiers would, I imagined, allow us to move from captivity to the slave narrative and to see those as intersecting traditions, while keeping a transnational perspective in view.  To help students understand the historical context of Barbary captivity narratives and to think about them in relation to other narratives we had read, I gave them (more…)

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