Recovery of neglected or forgotten texts is an integral part of teaching and writing in early American studies, and the current moment is in part defined by the strange blend of opportunities and obstacles for such work. Digital versions of texts are available in ways they never before have been, yet access is uneven and subject to vulnerable library budgets. Furthermore, even when such texts are obtainable, they are difficult to read and almost always lack the textual apparatus so important for the unknown text. Meanwhile, print editions face formidable challenges—publishers shy away from unknown texts; works with modest sales fall out of print; books become more and more expensive; and many institutions do not reward the labor of recovery, be that through graduate projects or scholarly editions, as they once did. Then there are the tremendous challenges of classroom practice—finding the time to prepare new materials, rethinking syllabi and assignments, and fitting unusual works into course rubrics geared for the canonical. One could go on with subtler but no less daunting challenges: the absence of supporting secondary scholarship; the risk of reducing the new text to an auxiliary of some canonical standard; the pedagogical aversion to anonymity; the preference for texts of particular lengths or genre clarity; the apparent relative simplicity of “new” texts, and so on. The challenges are formidable, and can make the work of recovery seem a form of gambling.
Just Teach One hopes to provide a modest attempt to address this often frustrating situation. First, with the generous support of the American Antiquarian Society and Common-place, we hope to provide a body of publicly available scholarly transcriptions of early texts, with basic editing and apparatus. Second, we hope to provide a critical mass of teachers incorporating the new text into their classroom. And finally, and most importantly, these teachers provide reflections on the text, insights and reaction, intertextual possibilities, and so on, in ways that should provide guidance for other teachers.
In this fashion, we hope that Just Teach One can provide a practical, long-term and cooperative, if still modest, approach to the problem of textual recovery. In an effort to reduce the “risks” of adding new material to a pre-existing course, we have prepared editions of short texts which can be taught in a single class session. In other words, this project initially aims to increase our objects of study while minimizing the labor involved in reconfiguring our syllabi. Our selection of texts is in part motivated by how these recovered artifacts might intersect or complicate our operant sense of familiar objects of study, thus expanding our praxis by thinking about new textual constellations. By providing a platform to foster an ongoing pedagogical conversation about these new materials, we hope the project can serve as a practical laboratory for canonical and archival expansion.
This project was really made possible by the generosity of our colleagues, from a diverse range of colleges and universities across the United States, who agreed to teach our first experimental text in the Fall of 2012. Without their efforts this project would simply not be possible. In the posts that follow, they offer their reflections on their experiences with Amelia; or the Faithless Briton (1787), their sense of its possibilities and limitations, and their insights as to how the addition of this new material reshaped their courses.
We invite others to join this project by following their example, by teaching our latest text, Humanity in Algiers (1801) or one of our earlier texts, and posting about the classroom experience.
Duncan Faherty (Queens College & the CUNY Graduate Center) firstname.lastname@example.org
& Ed White (Tulane University) email@example.com
Please email us for more information about the project, to sign up to teach one of our current editions, or to learn about forthcoming texts.