Just Teach One

Amelia in the digitally-archived republic of letters

Brian Sweeney

The College of St. Rose

I adopted Amelia for my 200-level course Sympathy and the Early American Novel, one I have offered several times at The College of Saint Rose.  This course, open to English majors and non-majors alike, introduces undergraduates to early national U.S. literature and culture while inviting them to think in a sustained way about sentimental aesthetics and the ethics and politics of sympathy.

Students came to Amelia having already read Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple (along with scholarship on seduction fiction, some sentimental poetry, and selections from Benjamin Rush and Adam Smith).  I was, I admit, hardly breaking new ground by pairing Amelia with Charlotte Temple; however, I enthusiastically followed the example set by previous JTO contributors, happy to relieve Rowson’s novel of the burden of serving as a synecdoche for all of Anglo-American seduction fiction.  While the two texts have much in common—seduced women, faithless British soldiers, bereaved fathers, transatlantic voyages, revolutionary war setting, etc.—their intriguing differences allowed my students to reflect on the diversity possible within this seemingly most formulaic of genres. (more…)

Early American Literature, the Electronic Archive, and the History of the Book

Karen Weyler
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

I was familiar with Amelia before I began this teaching project, after having written about that novella in Intricate Relations (Iowa, 2004).  I had not reread Amelia for a number of years, nor had I ever taught it.  Amelia was a perfect fit, however, for my Fall 2012 graduate seminar, titled “Early American Literature, the Electronic Archive, and the History of the Book.”   This class was comprised of twelve students, ranging from first-year master’s students to third-year Ph.D. students.  Only one of the students is majoring in pre-1900 American literature, and most had minimal background in early American literature.  In addition to collective weekly readings, the course required students to engage in extensive independent electronic database explorations, including, among others, the pay-for-service North American Women’s Letters and Diaries, Early American Imprints, First and Second Series, America’s Historical Newspapers, and American Periodicals.  We also used a number of free databases, such as Cornell University Library’s Making of America site and Colonial Williamsburg’s Virginia Gazette site, as well as numerous state archives discovered by the students.


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.


Genre, gender, and power

Ivy Schweitzer
Dartmouth College

First, this text came at the end of the term when students were fatigued and full up with Early American texts in a course that was both a survey and introduction to the field that spanned 1490’s to 1790’s and included literature from the Indian, French, and Spanish traditions as well as English. Notably, this class’s least favorite text was Behn’s Oroonoko, which in the previous iteration of the course was the big hit. The present group had trouble with Behn’s Romantic language and orotund writing style; at times they could not even summarize the plot! So Amelia came as a welcomed reprieve to them. Not only could they get the plot, but they experienced the sentimental mode with less resistance, and they understood the political allegory almost from the beginning and really ran with it.

Race and Captivity in the Early Atlantic World

Siân Silyn Roberts
Queens College, CUNY

First off, many thanks to Ed and Duncan for producing such an elegant and teachable edition of this novella! What follows is a broad account of our class discussion, and I’ve included the in-class exercises I gave my students at the end of this report.

This semester I included Amelia: Or, The Faithless Briton (A) for the first time in my early American literature survey, 1592-1855 (this course is required by all English majors, but if also offered as a Gen Ed course, so it attracts a variety of students from different disciplines, at different stages of their degrees).  We read it alongside Charlotte Temple (CT), and both texts are included under a broader section on the syllabus entitled “Race and Captivity in the Early Atlantic World.”  So I introduce my students to sentimental literature as a variation of the captivity narrative, where the cultural purity of a vulnerable female comes under assault from a force that interrupts the cohesion of the original community.  Since this is a survey, my aim in this class is to introduce students to the broader principles and characteristics of representative modes of writing from the colonial, national, and antebellum periods (ethnography, captivity narrative, slave narrative, sentimental novel, sermon, gothic short story, etc.).  We only spend a week on sentimentalism, since this course spans a huge period of U.S. literary production.  It’s definitely a challenge cramming this enormously complex form into one short week.

Amelia, Agency, and the Aesthetics of Mourning

James D. Lilley
SUNY Albany 

In a graduate seminar I taught this semester at SUNY Albany, one of the most immediate effects of sandwiching Amelia in between James Hogg’s The Memories and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and Washington Irving’s The Sketch-Book was to emphasize the aesthetic and political versatility of modern forms of romance.  While not, perhaps, an obvious choice for a syllabus entitled “The Transatlantic Gothic,” Amelia proved an interesting and important addition to our semester, especially when paired with Rowson’s Charlotte Temple.

Reading and Writing the American City

Betsy Klimasmith
University of Massachusetts, Boston

Amelia was the first text I pitched on opening night of my new graduate seminar, “Reading and Writing the American City.”  I chose it as the first text of the semester for several reasons: its brevity meant that students could easily read the text as they prepared to start the fall term; the pdf format was easy to distribute to them even before we met; and I felt it would set the class up well for our next text, Charlotte Temple. And with its amazing resonance with and inversion, nationality-wise, of Charlotte’s presentation of rural and urban spaces, Amelia seemed like the perfect text to get us talking thematically about the ways in which the city is imagined in literature of the Early Republic.

“Amelia and Charlotte and Bella and Me”

Lauren Klein
Georgia Institute of Technology

This year, I taught a special section of my “Formations of American Culture” course for Georgia Tech’s Building Construction majors. Since most Building Construction students are preparing for careers in construction management, I adjusted the course from its usual format—a fairly traditional survey of American literature to 1865—to focus, instead, on how the issues and themes that arise through the study of early American literature might relate to and inform the present day. Amelia thus appeared in a unit that also featured Charlotte Temple, as well as an episode of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and, pace Sarah Blackwood, the most recent film in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn Part I.

Amelia and Charlotte in the Liberal Arts Classroom

Toni Wall Jaudon
Hendrix College 

If, before class, you had asked many of the students in my senior seminar what they thought of Amelia, or the Faithless Briton, they would have likely told you that the best thing about Amelia was that it wasn’t Charlotte Temple. Amelia followed Charlotte on the syllabus, and my students’ responses to it had everything to do with their struggles to read Rowson’s novel. For these students, Charlotte was neither a novel they wanted nor one they knew how to study. It offered, in their assessment, a female protagonist unfit for sympathetic identification and a narrative devoid of craft, and it failed to yield complexity, ambiguity, and meaning when placed under the microscope of their close readings. Amelia, at least, had the virtue of an assertive female protagonist, even if it, like Charlotte, felt unreadable to them.

Doliscus, the Faithless Briton

Keri Holt
Utah State University

I taught Amelia, or The Faithless Briton in a senior seminar titled “Literature, Politics, and Society.” Broadly, the course focused on the relationship between novels and the politics of nationalism and revolution from the 1770s through the 1820s. Since I regularly teach Charlotte Temple and The Coquette in my “Introduction to American Literature” course, I was excited to have a different sentimental novel to focus on for this senior seminar. Since most of my current students had also taken the earlier introductory course, I expected that Amelia would prompt some spirited comparisons about the role and representation of women in these novels. With these expectations in mind, as I prepared for class, my notes focused primarily on the character of Amelia—her actions, motives, characteristics, relationships, etc. I’d also asked my students to write their own short responses to get our discussion started, and as we worked our way through those responses, it quickly became clear that my students were much more interested in the other title character for this novel—Doliscus, the Faithless Briton.

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