Just Teach One

Flash Mobbing the Early American Curriculum

Ezra Tawil
University of Rochester

When I heard about the Just Teach One project, and then again when I received the Amelia edition so beautifully prepared by Duncan Faherty and Ed White, my first reaction was exhilaration at the idea: all of us plotting to teach the same obscure but rich text, in coordinated simultaneity, and then documenting the event.  This could be the closest I’d ever come to participating in a flash mob.  My second reaction was disappointment that my Fall teaching schedule didn’t offer any obvious openings for the text.  (My two early American literature classes this year, in which Amelia would fit perfectly, are slated for the Spring semester; sure, I could teach it then, but no one wants to show up for the flash mob the next day.)  So my mind turned to the only Fall syllabus that seemed vaguely receptive, a seminar I would be co-teaching with Joan Rubin, my colleague in the History Department.  Joanie and I had brainstormed the reading list last Spring–this is a brand new course to be the central requirement for the American Studies major going forward–but developed the syllabus in July, under the usual pressure of book-order deadlines.  The result is “The Idea of ‘America,’” a course we have decided to build almost entirely around primary sources, unfolding chronologically from the Renaissance to the present, from Columbus’s 1493 letter to Luis de Santángel to Senator Obama’s 2004 address at the Democratic National Convention.


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