Commonplace


Just Teach One

The Columbian Magazine and Genre

Michelle Burnham

Santa Clara University

“Introduction to Literary History and Interpretation” is one of three foundation courses for the English major at Santa Clara University, and as such is probably a less than ideal pedagogical context in which to ask students to read and talk about the November 1786 issue of The Columbian Magazine. Indeed, the first thing I learned after assigning this material to my undergraduate students is that they don’t read magazines. I discovered this when I asked them to compare this eighteenth-century example to more contemporary and familiar ones­­­. (more…)

The Pleasures and Peculiarities of Teaching the Early American Periodical

Adam Lewis
Boston College

I taught the November 1786 issue of the Columbian Magazine about a third of the way through my American literature survey course this past fall.  Coming in between Franklin’s Autobiography and Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette, my thinking was the periodical would provide an opportunity to consider and compare different literary forms of the early national period—life writing, the magazine, the novel.  Given the significance of transatlantic periodical culture in Franklin’s text, including his early efforts to imitate from the Spectator and his competition with Andrew Bradford to publish the first magazine in British North America, it seemed the Columbian Magazine would give students a feel for a genre so important to Franklin and his contemporaries.  While I have encountered some resistance to assigning more ephemeral and obscure material in previous courses, I also hoped Franklin’s “validation” of the magazine form would make them more willing to engage it.  Moreover, students almost always respond favorably to The Coquette, and the multiplicity of voices in Foster’s epistolary seduction novel shares a resemblance to the arrangement of different material in magazines of the time.  Indeed, as Jared Gardner argues in the introduction of The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture, placing Foster in the role of editor over that of author provides new ways of approaching the novel in relation to early national periodical culture.

Students responded to the Columbian Magazine with interest and seemed to grasp some of the connections among readings I hoped they would.  Rather than assign the entire issue, I required students to read particular selections—“Descriptions of  BONES, &c.,” “An Account of…Pennsylvania,” “Perrin and Lucetta, or Rural Probity,” and the short poem “An INDIAN ECLOGUE.”  In addition, they had to read one more selection of their choice that they would share with the rest of the class.  The article on the mastodon bones provided an opportunity to discuss both the enlightenment assumptions and nationalist claims underpinning the descriptions.  In other selections students identified distinctions between urban and rural settings, particularly the idealization of farming and village life in both Benjamin Rush’s history of Pennsylvania and “Perrin and Lucetta.”

While the wide variety of material made it challenging to discuss it all in one class meeting, it did offer a chance for students to share what they found compelling (or confounding) from the issue.  Gardner’s linking of the periodical form of the political form of the new nation through the motto “E pluribus unum” in the introduction he prepared for the issue was intriguing for many students.  They found it a convincing way to understand the seemingly random collection of articles in the magazine.  As someone researching and writing about American periodicals, I was excited to have this opportunity to incorporate it into my teaching and will likely continue to use this JTO text in future classes.

A Literary Lab: Exploring the Columbian Magazine

Keri Holt

Utah State University

I introduced The Columbian Magazine to my students at the end of a survey course on Early American literature. We had just wrapped up the final unit, which focused on the literary culture of the early United States, covering canonical classics such as Franklin’s Autobiography, Charlotte Temple, and The Contrast. By that point, my students were tired, stressed out, and ready to be finished with all things “early American.” I was tired too and a little bit apprehensive moving on to The Columbian Magazine, which was a text I’d never taught before. I was also curious about how much my students had actually learned in our last unit. There is so much political and social history to cover in order to provide context for reading works like Charlotte Temple and The Contrast, and I was worried I’d spent too much time lecturing during the past few weeks, rather than providing my students with opportunities to engage with the material in more active or curious terms.

The Columbian Magazine was the perfect way to wrap up the course. (more…)

Exploring Editorial Work

Siân Silyn Roberts

Queens College, CUNY

Producing an edition of the Columbian Magazine for JTO was a gamble that, in my opinion, really paid off.  This reading elicited some truly outstanding, creative insight from my students, and they responded so well to the questions the magazine invited.  This was definitely my favorite JTO assignment yet!  Part of its success, I think, lay in that fact that I changed the pedagogical aims of the assignment from previous readings.  In the past, I’ve included JTO readings to augment specific literary-critical sections of a syllabus (St. Herbert in a section on the captivity narrative and the gothic, for example, or Amelia; Or, The Faithless Briton as part of the sentimental tradition). This semester, where I taught an upper division elective on literary nationalism in early America, the Columbian Magazine seemed to offer a somewhat different opportunity.  I used this project to reflect more generally on the critical stakes of recovery itself, and to ask students to think about the construction of an archive and the politics of canonization.  Since most of my students are often unfamiliar with early American literature before they take a course on it, I decided to place that unfamiliarity center stage by making the JTO project and its aims an integral part of the syllabus. (more…)

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