Generating Debate in the Early American Literature Classroom

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Hugh Egan (Ithaca College)/ NeMLA 2019
contact email: 

What issues currently generate debate among our students as they read classic American texts from the pre-Civil War era? Racism in Rowlandson and Jefferson? Toxic economic self-interest in Franklin? Paternalism in Emerson and Thoreau? This pedagogical roundtable will be devoted to a discussion of how we keep the 21st century student engaged with American texts from the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. I am especially interested in the balance (if that is the right word) we strike between encouraging aesthetic appreciation of a work while simultaneously inviting sharp cultural/historical critique. Does Whitman’s “Song of Myself” inspire and impress your students, or is the author seen as appropriating his subjects for a project centered upon his own privilege? Does Phillis Wheatley’s “On Being Brought from Africa to America” elicit wonder, skepticism, or some combination of both? This panel welcomes discussions of how individual authors are received in the classroom, strategies for orchestrating meaningful conversational exchange while teaching these authors, as well as broader speculations regarding the inclinations, predilections, biases, and interests the contemporary undergraduate brings to canonical American texts.