Jennifer Frangos email@example.com
Cristobal Silva firstname.lastname@example.org
From the colonization
Focusing on what has come to be known as the Transatlantic World, we read canonical and non-canonical materials, literary and “non-literary” texts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We interrogate basic convergences and divergences between these closest of nations by examining the circulation of capital and print culture, the emergence of race and gender as modern categories of identity, the evolution of democratic rhetoric in the eighteenth-century, and the mutual impact that the Old and New Worlds had in shaping each other’s literary imaginations.
was designed to address two audiences: first, to provide students with
an understanding of the long eighteenth century that displaces traditional
academic boundaries by tracing the major migratory, literary, and intellectual
movements that bound Old England to New; second, to provide professors
not only with the practical framework to engage recent scholarly trends
in eighteenth-century transatlantic studies, but also to create a laboratory
for collaborative research.
We shared lecture, discussion, and grading duties equally. We also made sure that students understood the grading procedures: we discussed criteria and grade ranges for each set of assignments and exams, and read several examples together to ensure consistency. Each of us graded one written assignment and one exam per student, and the instructor of record filed the final grade. The procedure for grade appeals was for students to approach the instructor who assigned the particular grade in question; if this did not resolve the issue, the student could then speak with the second instructor and we would both revisit the grade.
Logistically, a group this large can be difficult to manage, but we were committed to providing students with an experience as close as possible to our department’s other third-year courses (capped at 30). To achieve this, we met before every class period to discuss each day’s lesson or discussion plan and to strategize about presentation. We called on students to give brief informal presentations, relied on small-group work, and modeled discussions for students whenever possible. Often one or the other of us would take primary responsibility for discussion, with the other sitting among the students and participating in the discussion. Now that are both more familiar with the general trajectory of the course, our goal is to break further from models of professional expertise, and spend more time together at the front of the class. Thus, we both want to avoid the expert/observer dynamic that can quickly emerge from team-taught courses. We believe that these steps help students to reconsider their own nationalist assumptions about literary studies, and promote the course’s pedagogical goals.
We had assumed that students would come into the class with a general sense of 18th-c British and early American literatures as traditionally taught/conceived, and that we could use those assumptions as a foil for the course content. However, this did not prove to be the case with most of the students who enrolled, in part because our department offers period-specific survey courses (for example, in Restoration and 18th-century British literature) that students may repeat when the topic or focus changes, rather than a general survey of the history of British or American literature. In our case, this meant that students were taking the course in 18th-century British or Early American literature for the first time, and had little idea of what to expect. When we realized this, we made the effort to touch on the ways that a more traditionally conceived national literature course might talk about the materials and texts, and to mark where our class focus diverged from that more standard line as a way of further dramatizing the stakes of our discussion. We are each delighted to have several students from the Transatlantic course in our respective period surveys this semester, and are encouraging them to incorporate their perspectives into the material and narratives they encounter this semester.
As a pedagogical practice, we tried to keep the focus on the Transatlantic connections between the readings, emphasizing the movement of populations and circulation of ideas, rather than being driven by models of literary history that are shaped by static national boundaries. None of the reading passages we assigned was very long, except for the book-length works, which we discussed over the course of several class periods. We encouraged students to read with an eye toward connections to texts that had already been discussed, and usually prepared for subsequent discussions by offering questions or topics to bear in mind while reading at home. Our general technique for facilitating class discussion was to begin with some brief context and overview of the important ideas and plot points for the day, usually through close readings of pertinent passages. The rest of the period was designed to explore the Transatlantic ideas articulated in each text, and to tease out connections to other readings. While this meant that we didn’t necessarily discuss each reading in the kind of depth that might have been done in other contexts, our emphasis on developing ideas over the course of the semester ensured that texts discussed in the first week of class were still being referenced on the last day. We believe this allowed for a satisfying and relevant consideration of the readings.
Our reading of John Locke serves as a good illustration. Locke is a figure that each of us regularly teaches as a part of our traditional period surveys. In the 18th-century literature course, the emphasis is on reading Locke in the context of the New Science, empiricism, and philosophical debates about reason and the social order, and as an exercise in more abstracted applications of Reason. In the American course, the discussion hinges on the resonances between the early colonial history of North American and Locke’s theories of natural and civil rights. In the Transatlantic context, we merged these discussions, revisiting the Second Treatise at various points in the semester. Rather than relying on a geographically specific context for Locke’s ideas, we consider how Locke’s contrast of the civil society with the “savages of America” resonates in both England and America, and helps to highlight the interconnectedness between the English focus on the individual in relation to society, and the theological justifications for migration written by Puritan colonists. We reintroduce the Second Treatise at the end of the semester, as we consider Locke’s influence on late eighteenth-century revolutionary discourse. Thus, the Transatlantic focus rounds out each of our independent uses of this important text, lending a philosophical context to “American” readings of the text, and a practical application of the ideas to a more narrowly defined “British” treatment — but perhaps more importantly, it highlights of the trajectory of the Transatlantic movement of ideas.
In what follows, we’d like to run through our syllabus quickly, and provide some insights about the decision process we went through will designing the course.
begin the first day with an excerpt from Thomas Harriot’s 1590 edition
of A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land
of Virginia, published with copper plate engravings by Theodore de
Bry. We hand out the engravings of An
Aged Man in his Winter Garment and the portrait of A
Chief Lady of Pomeooic and ask the students to consider both
the portraits and the accompanying text. After
discussing the descriptions of the Native Americans, the often contrasting
depictions in the engravings, and the European perspectives imposed onto
the American landscape, we show the students a slide of Botticelli’s The Birth
of Venus (ca. 1485), and discuss the ramifications of the unmistakable
similarities in posture, grouping, and detail between the Chief Lady
and Venus. This sets up what will
be a fundamental theme of the first unit of the class: the importation
of European ideas to the North American continent, the struggle to translate
what early explorers and settlers find there into familiar terms, and
the subsequent return of those ideas to
course follows a roughly chronological progression, but we conceive of
it as less bound by this chronology, than by a number of smaller units
designed to feed into one another. Thus, the unit on exploration and
justification narratives that model ideal or utopian communities is followed
by one that centers on the breakdown of community – represented in the
Antinomian Controversy and the Civil Wars and Commonwealth Period in
These in turn are followed by texts that position community as a site where the boundaries between civilization and savagery are not so distinct as traditionally represented in the popular imagination; texts such as Mary Rowlandson’s True History, Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, and Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines raise issues of race, class, and gender that will become the foundation for discussions later in the semester.
The next unit
investigates commerce and the English imagination, with a focus on
sets up the prominent issues of the cluster of texts at the center of
the course: Defoe’s Moll Flanders,
The last few
weeks of the semester identify the key terms of revolutionary discourse
on both sides of the
The final texts of the semester bring back issues from the first units on exploration and popular imagination. Like Bradford and Bacon, who see European cultural identity reflected in uncharted wilderness, Edgar Huntly looks into the American interior and aestheticizes the wilderness as a representation of his own interiority. And as we began with visual and written text (DeBry and Harriot) celebrating the promise of “virgin territory”, so we end with Blake’s America: A Prophecy, written in England, after the French Revolution, and drawing on the popular imaginings of revolution and looking forward into the nineteenth-century and the central role to be assumed by the newly established democracy in America.
As much as we believe the Transatlantic model for seventeenth and eighteenth-century studies to be an important one, this course still has an institutional responsibility to prepare students for more traditional nationalist classes that are fundamental to the English major today. Bearing this institutional responsibility in mind, we feel that our class does not simply dismantle nationalist paradigms, but asks students to consider how these paradigms are constructed, and what the political, ideological, and literary stakes of these constructions are. In other words, we don’t necessarily see the class as a departure from an English major’s training, but rather as integral to it. Ideally, this course fosters a spirit of inquiry that will carry over to other classes, helping students develop tools to think more critically about the relationship between nationalism and literary history. We prepare our students for this work through a strong emphasis on close reading, and rigorous attention to thematic and formal analysis; at the end of the semester, the take-home portion of our final exam asks them to reflect on the questions that framed the course in the first day’s lecture and in the syllabus.
The remainder of the exam allows students to pull together the major themes of the course and reflect on the impact and value of a Transatlantic perspective. One section of the final requires students to juxtapose an “American” and a “British” text and write a short essay explicating the “conversations” that emerge from that combination:
The exam and final evaluations highlighted several useful points about the course. While a few students were disoriented by having two professors at the front of the class (some believing it meant that the workload was doubled), the majority adjusted their expectation accordingly, and expressed an increasingly sophisticated awareness of the relation between narrative and the processes of literary historiography as the semester progressed; terms like “national literature,” “British,” and “American” were no longer deployed uncritically, but resonated along an axis defined as much by the circulation of ideas as by territorial boundaries.
Even with these practical applications, we would have considered the course only a partial success if it didn’t provide us with a workable platform for translating the classroom experience into broader conversations about our research. While the long eighteenth-century may be an ideal period for examining Transatlantic issues, this teaching model made us rethink the ways in which decisions we make in our own work often reflect broader institutionalized practices. The model further prompts collaborative work, and enriches individual research by continually challenging our relationship to the materials we tend to become familiar with in the day-to-day operation of our classes. Finally, collaborative teaching serves as a reminder of the ways in which undergraduate teaching at the survey level can have deeply productive influences on our research.