Posts Tagged United States
Greetings from Chicago!
If your weather is anything like ours, the ups and downs in temperature are hard to keep track of. Just a few days ago, I was wearing my heavy winter coat with a single digit wind chill freezing me on my walk to the train station. Today the sun is out and the projected high is near 50 degrees fahrenheit. I guess it’s true what they say. If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute. Of course, temperature swings aside, there is no snow or ice on the ground here in Chicago. That is worth the hassle of temperature swings. At least in my opinion.
The NEMLA 2017 Conference in Baltimore, MD is just a little over a month away. This year’s conference has a great lineup of speakers and events. In the Anglophone/American Section, there are a broad range of research and teaching interests represented. Everything from methods of teaching early American literature in a way that resonates with 21st century students to research on the eco-gothic and urban pastoralism. You can see an online version of the convention schedule here.
The Anglophone/American area also has a great special event speaker this year. I’ve teamed up the the Cultural Studies and Media Studies chair Lisa Perdigao to invite Brian Norman to speak on the topic of the “posthumous autobiography.” You can read more about Brian Norman and his research here.
I hope to see some of my blog’s readers in Baltimore. Just look for the mustache and bowtie. My signature look. ; )
After the conference wraps up in late March, I’ll be sending out a call for sessions for next year’s conference in Pittsburg (the last at which I’ll be serving as area director). If you have an idea for a roundtable or session, start working on it now. I’d love to see you there. Topics of particular interest for the Pittsburg conference include images of Labor in U.S.fiction (past and present) as well as panels that address immigrants and immigration in U.S. fiction, particularly Latinos. Disability Studies panels are also welcome as this is a subject of perennial interest at our conventions. Submissions on Disability Studies to my area should address in some way the literary texts that either subvert or reaffirm our current understandings of the disabled and/or of “ability.”
Now for the part of my monthly blog where I give you, my readers, some insights into my current work. This month’s post (intended for January but woefully behind schedule) will focus on teaching, specifically my approach to teaching an intermediate level American Literature survey.
First of all, I’d like to start with some terminology. I’m not always good at following my own rule, but over the years I’ve started to become more rigorous in my distinction between the meaning of the United States and that of “America.” As I told my students during week one of this semester, the United States is a political and geographical reality. It is a place on a map that you can visit. America, in contrast, is an idea. The only way that America has a physical reality in the world is through the actions of those who live in the United States and continually debate with each other the meaning of that idea.
To highlight that distinction, I subdivided my survey course into three sections. The first I titled “America Lost/America Found.” In this section of the course, we examined the competing views of the land espoused by the First Nations (i.e. Native American tribal cultures) and those of the “discoverers” of “America” (i.e. the English and Spanish explorers and settlers). For one group of writers, the vision of the world they lived in was superseded while the other created “America” to fit the new continent within their pre-existing views of the world.
The second section of the course is called “A PostColonial Nation.” This section of the course contains many of the same authors found in an American Literature survey, but they are re-contextualized within the framework of postcolonial theory. The United States, after all, was a Colony of Great Britain that used many of the same reasons for independence that nations would use much later to justify separation from the “mother country.” During the past week, my class has read Thomas Paine’s defense of the rebellion in the English Colonies (Common Sense and The Crisis). One of my students made the astute observation that not only were the fledgling colonies growing to young adulthood (as Paine imagined them) but also realizing that they lived in a household with abusive parents and needed to move out. Now that we have made it past the part where the English colonies are moving out of the home space created by the mother country, our next series of readings will look at the United States trying to determine its own identity in terms of culture. What remains from the British tradition in the new world as authors and readers fight over the idea of “America” and what new ideas emerge?
The third and final section of the course addresses a concern that came up during the Presidential election last year that the cities of the United States are increasingly divorced from the world of a place called “the country.” This problem goes back to the founding of the nation in the contrasting political philosophies of men like Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. For the purposes of this class, we’ll examine this urban/rural divide as a stable metaphor in U.S. culture and see how that metaphor plays out in two key novels from the late nineteenth century, Sister Carrie and O Pioneers! In the first of these narratives, we see the fears of those outside the city at the corrupting power of urban space, particularly for women. The second addresses the issue of immigration and the rural landscape. Who are the people who live in the country? What do they do for living? What makes them different from those who choose to live in the city?
It’s been a while since I’ve had the privilege to teach an American Literature course so I’m putting my full energy into teaching it this semester. My hope is to cement in my student’s minds the reality that terms do matter. They frame the starting points of our thought. Consequently, if we mistake “America” for the “United States,” we leave out the other countries that make up North and South America as well as Central America and the Caribbean. We also assume that we know what “America” means. If 2016 has taught us nothing else, it should be that these foundational terms cannot be taken for granted. A healthy debate is always needed about the idea/ideal of “America” and how it relates to the United States. I want to create a place where that debate can take place in a respectful and useful manner.
My hope for this post is to suggest to other scholars and teachers (wherever or whatever you teach) that syllabi matter. I teach First Year Writing more frequently than literature and our program has a strong genre-based focused that emphasizes the relationship between writer, form, reader, context, and desired outcome. Faculty need to ask themselves what they hope to achieve from their course and make this part of the creation of their course syllabi. Too often it is a throw away genre that is constructed primarily to meet administrative needs and is thereby trapped in traditions that are comfortable but not useful for students or the advancement of pedagogy in a particular field. I’m trying to break out of my comfort zone here and practice in the classroom some of the concepts I talk about in conferences like NEMLA as well as in my research.
Well, that’s all for this month’s post.
Until next time….
This morning a post showed up on the C-19 Listserv for nineteenth-century Americanists that linked to a Daily Mail article on the efforts of two technicians to colorize Civil War era photographs.
You can read the article and see samples of their work here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2446391/Amazing-Civil-War-photographs-created-colorist-bring-eras-heroes-characters-life-color-time.html
I have to admit that seeing these well-known photos in color was fascinating. Especially interesting was the ability to see the color of the landscape (indicating season) and also the tint of the uniforms. We talk so much about the “blue” and “grey” and yet most of the imagery we have of them is black and white.
But I am also wary of the notion of improving history through technological advances rather than simply using it to store documents in an alternate format for preservation purposes. This is something that could potentially be a lot more damaging to the archive than Ted Turner’s ill-fated effort years ago to colorize classic cinema.
Postscript: A Civil War scholar responding to the C-19 listserv post a few minutes ago reminded me in his comments that photographs were hand colored in the 19th century. So again the technology is not the issue here. It’s the motive. Why color these photographs?
Have any scholars commented on the theoretical implications of color in historical documents? What is the real psychological difference between a document in color vs. one in black and white?
I know when I teach film in my literature courses, black and white films tend to be perceived by some students as boring and other as more authoritative (cinema rather than film). I call it the “black and white” effect. I wonder if this is true of print documents and photos?
Call for Papers:
The American Civil War and Reconstruction
Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association
National Conference 2014
April 16-19, 2014
Marriott Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile
The Civil War and Reconstruction Area of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association is calling for papers on the American Civil War and Reconstruction for its national meeting, April 16-19, 2014 (Wednesday through Saturday) at theMarriott Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile. Papers are welcome from a range of disciplines, and may explore any topic or “reading” of the War. Past presentations have included such diverse subject areas as literature, photography, art, newspapers and journalistic history, counterfactual history, battle reenactments, music, politics, battle narratives, guerilla warfare, film, historiographical issues, women’s narratives, war games, secession politics, African-Americans at war, modern pop culture, memory and memorializing, battlefield preservation, and material culture. Suggested special topics for this year could include slavery and politics, Northern intellectuals at war, Lincoln and the Spielberg film, military politics, The 150th Commemoration and the Politics of Commemoration, and the cultural legacy of the War.
Acceptance of your paper obligates you to appear and make an oral presentation of your paper. Sessions run for ninety minutes, and each presenter receives fifteen minutes, depending on the number of papers in each panel. Please plan to stay within this time limit. Graduate students are welcome to submit proposals. Whole panel proposals are also welcome
Please send an abstract of 100-250 words to:
Dr. Randal Allred,
Department of English,
Brigham Young University Hawaii,
55-220 Kulanui St.,
Laie, HI 96762
Please include in your proposal your address, school affiliation, e-mail, and telephone number.
Also, please submit your proposal online at http://pcaaca.org/national-conference-2/proposing-a-presentation-at-the-conference/
Deadline for submissions is November 1, 2013. For more information, go to http://pcaaca.org/national-conference-2/
Call for Papers
High Water Mark of War: The Battle of Gettysburg in Fiction and Film
45th Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NEMLA)
April 3-6, 2014
Host: Susquehanna University
Often regarded by scholars as one of the major turning points in the United States Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg has attained an iconic status in American literature and culture. Twentieth Century southern writer William Faulkner claimed in his novel Intruder in the Dust (1948) that “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863.” Living with the legacy of defeat, white southern males imagined (in Faulkner’s view) a time when General Pickett had yet to lead his charge and the South still imagined it could win the war. Northern writers such as Michael Shaara also turned to Gettysburg for a wide variety of reasons. In Shaara’s case, the struggle at Gettysburg provided moral clarity that was sorely lacking in the Vietnam War era.
This panel will address the question of what actually happened at Gettysburg and how those events were reshaped over time to create distinct ‘legacies’ of that battle and the war of which it was a part. Questions to consider include but aren’t limited to: How is race addressed (or not) in portrayals of the battle? What role do civilians play in representations of the battle? Is battlefield heroism portrayed in a straightforward or ironic light? Does a particular narrative of the battle seem to say more about its own times than the Civil War era?
Film scholars are encouraged to submit proposals for this panel. Papers that examine the civilian experience of the battle are also sought.
Please send your abstract of approximately 250-300 words along with a one page CV to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline for submissions is September 30, 2013
Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; however, panelists can only present one paper (panel or seminar). Convention participants may present a paper at a panel and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable. For a full list of NEMLA 2014 conference sessions visit:
The archaeological remains of an Annex to the notorious Confederate prison camp Andersonville have been discovered in Millen, Georgia. You can hear an overview of the discovery in this CNN news clip.
More in depth information on the project is available through this Georgia Southern University website.