Teaching an undergraduate survey course like I do every fall presents a couple of challenges. For one, there’s the problem of what to include. I’m the only one in a relatively small department of eight full-time faculty who specializes in American literature prior to the Civil War, and, unless our majors elect to take one of my 400-level courses, the required survey represents their primary exposure to texts and authors from that period. As a consequence, I feel a responsibility both to cover canonical figures and works by lesser-known authors, especially women and writers of color less familiar to students from high school curricula. A second and related challenge involves helping my students to understand why anyone would want to devote sixteen weeks to studying early American literature in the first place. Although most of my students are too polite to pose that question, I sometimes get the impression that, to paraphrase one of my colleagues, they regard difficult historical texts as “literary spinach,” as something that’s good for them because that’s what they’ve always been told. (more…)
Siân Silyn Roberts
Queens College, CUNY
First off, many thanks indeed to Duncan and Ed for preparing this edition of St. Herbert. My students were very intrigued by the idea of being part of the Just Teach One project, and we had a lively, interesting discussion about the text, thanks to Duncan and Ed’s edition. I’m really grateful to my students for their very generous engagement with St. Herbert – they were really enthusiastic in their approach to a text that, as I had cautioned, was all but unknown in college classrooms.
I placed the novella in a course for upper seniors called Stolen Lives: Kidnapping and Captivity in American Literature and Culture, in a section on gothic captivity. Initially, I thought this placement might be a bit of a stretch, but it ended up working extremely well in a course on the captivity narrative. So our discussion was largely framed around the text’s repurposing of the cultural materials of the gothic and captivity. What follows are some of the highlights of our discussion: (more…)
Maria A. Windell
University of Colorado, Boulder
The call for this edition of the “Just Teach One” series went out as I was finalizing an “American Novel” syllabus, which was set to open with Charlotte Temple, Wieland, and The Last of the Mohicans. There was nothing too shocking in this framing, which would ask students to think about genre and the tensions between nation’s matriarchal and patriarchal founding literary narratives. But the “Just Teach One” text St. Herbert, A Tale sounded like a perfect bridge from Rowson to Brown and Cooper: a gothic-sentimental novella with an isolated sylvan setting, about “generational tensions surrounding the issue of companionate marriage,” and featuring “an extended portrait of an elderly Cayuga man likely modeled on Logan”? Yes, please! My intention was to use the novella to link questions of sentiment, consent, and companionate marriage to the nation’s gothic (and) American Indian landscapes. (more…)
I included St. Herbert in an undergraduate course entitled “Early American Literature,” which spans from the Colonial period to 1820 (though, in this semester, we didn’t read anything later than 1800). We read St. Herbert at the end of the semester, after a sampling of Colonial and Early National texts and, particularly, after three other novels: The Power of Sympathy, Charlotte Temple, and Wieland. I placed the text on the syllabus before reading it myself, and I committed my class to offering a presentation related to the novella for our university convocation program.
In our initial discussion of St. Herbert, my students wondered what we were going to do with this text. (more…)
Northern Illinois University
St. Hebert was one of the few fiction selections on my syllabus this semester and it worked well for introducing students to important conventions of 1790s fiction and the critical conversations about those conventions.
I began our discussion by pointing out, alà Jane Tompkins, how early American fiction has long been critically neglected as too British, too sentimental, or just not “good.” In the typical classroom, the study of early American fiction has been relegated to a few now canonical texts. Discussing the objectives of the Just Teach One project enabled students to have some sense of why issues of canonicity matter. They were generally enthusiastic about being in the vanguard for this cutting-edge pedagogical project and eager to discuss the politics of text selection in literature anthologies—a point that I find Just Teach One makes real for them. (more…)
Laurel V. Hankins
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
I incorporated St. Herbert into a 13-student senior seminar. The topic of the seminar was Early U.S. Gothic Fiction, 1780-1860. We spent our first class discussing excerpts from J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, but St. Herbert was the first text of the semester to receive a full 150-minute discussion. Each class meeting half of the students gave short presentations and the other half served as respondents. St. Herbert proved to be an excellent text to introduce students to some major themes of early national fiction. St. Herbert became a familiar touchstone for the class, and students continued to refer to it throughout the semester. Two students wrote about St. Herbert in their final papers.
Because this text occurred so early in the semester, much of our discussion was spent thinking about what characterizes early American Gothic novels. (more…)
Dr. Colin T. Ramsey
Appalachian State University
[Responses by Colin T. Ramsey, with Dana Dunmire, Matthew Staton, Kevin Pyon, Jessica White, Jenna Lewis, Miles Britton, Morgan Pruitt, and Jonathan Wells]
Since I first read David Reynolds’ Beneath the American Renaissance in graduate school, I’ve been interested in the ways that canonized texts were often in dialog with other works now either mostly ignored or all but forgotten. So, when my department’s Master’s level course in nineteenth-century American literature rotates around to me, I often work-up a syllabus designed, in part, to interrogate the processes of canon formation, and to complicate the distinctions between high, middle, and low-brow literature.
University of Colorado Denver
I taught St. Herbert this past fall in an upper division survey course: American Literature to the Civil War. The course proceeded roughly chronologically, and so we read the novella shortly after covering works such as Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, the writings of Thomas Jefferson, and Phillis Wheatley’s poetry. It was a wonderful and productive addition to the syllabus. First, because it originally appeared in The New-York Weekly Magazine, St. Herbert allowed the class to talk about the phenomenon of serialization and the role that newspapers played in the emerging republic (something already touched upon in conjunction with Franklin’s Autobiography). The fact that the novella’s authorship is hazy—the author is identified only as “Anna”—allowed us to discuss the conventions and risks associated with publishing in early America, especially for women. (more…)
St. Bonaventure University
St. Herbert (1796) is a short novel about a group of people who visit and live in a remote part of rural upstate New York. Many of them learn important life lessons while there, and often enough, also find romantic love. St. Bonaventure University is a small liberal-arts focused school in a remote part of rural upstate New York. Students come there for education and, if alumni reunions are representative, regularly leave having found lasting romantic relationships. A central character in St. Herbert finds the freedom to practice her newfound Catholicism in the novel’s rural setting; the character names St. Herbert and Julius Cuthbert seem to allude to famous Catholic hermits. Franciscan friars founded St. Bonaventure in the 1850s to provide education and religion to a nearby oil town built a few years earlier. The people who visit George St. Herbert at home are generally from New York City, although a few are country folk. At St. Bonaventure, most students are from the metropolitan areas of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and New York City, but there are also some from the small villages and dairy farms that lie in between these urban hubs. (more…)
Rochelle Raineri Zuck
University of Minnesota Duluth
When I first heard about Profs. Duncan Faherty and Ed White’s “Just Teach One” project, which provides digital scholarly editions of “neglected or forgotten texts” for classroom use, I was really excited at the prospect of introducing new material into my American novels course (Faherty and White “Welcome”). What proved even more exciting, however, was that participating in this program helped me to empower students to discover their own “forgotten” novels. Working with “Just Teach One” texts such as “St. Herbert—A Tale” (1796) demonstrates to students, perhaps better than any other way that I have tried, that there are new things to be discovered/rediscovered about early America. (more…)