Wednesday, January 20, 2010

1/22 Reading Assignment

Since our anthology seems to be arriving late, we will make use of a web resource for our first reading assignment.

For Fri., the assignment is to read an extract from John Smith's Generall History of Virginia, The Somer Isles, and New England (1623). This link will take you Book III, ch. 1 (p. 85) of one version of Smith's narrative archived at the Library of Congress. Read ch. 1, ch. 2, and ch. 3 (pp. 85-110 in the LOC version). As you read, think about the following question: If we regard Smith's narrative as one of the "beginnings" of American literature, what then can we say about American literature (and America itself) at its origins?

You may also think about whether, if you were teaching this course, you would begin with a different text. Would you back it up to Christopher Columbus, which would move us more than a century earlier and make the first work of American literature a text written in Spanish? Would you begin with Native American oral narratives, which would remove us from the Gregorian calendar and world of print altogether? Would you begin with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, or some other figure from the Revolutionary War era? Would you begin somewhere else? My point in asking the questions is to underscore something from the first lecture: that there is no single, universally agreed upon point of origin for American literature. Rather, there is a range of possibilities, each of which might lead us to conceptualize "American literature" differently.

Last, as you read, pay particular attention to the story that begins on p. 101 and involves Smith and someone named Pocahontas. Perhaps you've heard of her. This marks the first time that story was published. How does it compare to the versions you've heard elsewhere? And why, for that matter, has this story stayed with for so long?

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