The Eighteenth Century
Tradition and Change in Anglo-America; Enlightenment Voices, Revolutionary Visions
The selections in the first two sections highlight arguments within the Anglo-American community. In their diversity of forms and the variety of motives behind them, they challenge the supposed homogeneity of that community and indeed require the class to reconsider what we mean by "community." The "Patriot and Loyalist Songs and Ballads" will perhaps most obviously challenge the common belief that Anglo-Americans were of one mind about the revolution, but texts by women writers, by members of different religious communities, and by members of different social classes will show that whatever Thomas Jefferson may claim about the "truths" he articulates in the Declaration of Independence, they are anything but "self-evident." Indeed, by placing the so-called "Founding Fathers" in their cultural context, we can read a text like the "Declaration" not simply as an enumeration of timeless truths, but as an argument designed to achieve specific and complex political and social ends. Such a view in the classroom provides a sense of the very real stakes involved in "literary" questions of form, style, and structure.
Contested Boundaries, National Visions: Writings on "Race," Identity, and "Nation"
Among those political and social ends referred to above were not only the fomenting of revolution, but also the channeling and containment of revolutionary energies through the construction of myths of national unity, purpose, and identity. The selections in "Contested Boundaries, National Visions" show students that if the debate was heated within Anglo-America, this divided community was only one of many with important interests involved in the progress and outcome of this debate.
Again, as with the texts in the first two sections, class discussion here can focus on the dynamics of the rhetorical situation each writer or group of writers faced in composing and distributing their texts. Now, however, those rhetorical situations become even more complicated, as writers negotiate among cultures and appeal to diverse, even contradictory interests. This is particularly true of black writers like Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley, whose own identities are caught between the worlds of slaves and slave-owners, Africans and Europeans, Christians and "pagans." By discussing the daunting array of prejudices, political beliefs, and social conventions confronting these slave and ex-slave writers even before they picked up a pen, circumstances that made even the proclaiming of the most pious verities a radical act simply because of who was proclaiming them, students can better see and discuss these texts as the carefully constructed, daring performances they are. The same considerations apply to texts by Native American writers like Hendrick Aupaumut and Samson Occom, or even to the best-selling novels by Susanna Haswell Rowson and Hannah Webster Foster, who wrote novels about the proper relations between the genders for a largely female audience in a male-dominated publishing world. Given such a rich rhetorical context, a discussion of the Federalist/Anti-Federalist papers can look not only at the care with which certain political issues are discussed in those texts, but at the range of political, social, and cultural issues not even brought up for discussion.
Missionary Voices of the Southwest
Many students, particularly but not exclusively outside of the West and Southwest, are surprised to learn of the scope and activity of the Spanish colonies in the eighteenth century. While the entries here can't possibly supply the gap in historical consciousness many in the U.S. have about Latino history, these entries can lend perspective to U.S. history by providing a larger context for a consideration of the American revolution. The report by Fray Carlos José Delgado, for example, gives students another, non-English argument about the purpose of colonization and the proper relations between Europeans and the indigenous population, while Fray Francisco Palou's biography of Junípero Serra shows another process of mythmaking involving a different "Founding Father." For students who have never done so, considering "American" cultural history from the perspective of the Spanish colonial experience raises important questions for discussion about the meaning of center and margins, of frontier and wilderness, and about the traditional view of American history as a movement west from the east coast. For students already familiar with or raised with this perspective, such a discussion not only provides a validation of that perspective, but also allows these students to assume a role of authority and centrality in the classroom.