Reading Native American myths and legends might seem to require a new way of reading. What aesthetic assumptions (about what literature should be, about authorship, about plot, about form, etc.) do you typically bring to texts you read in English classes? And in what ways were those assumptions challenged?
(1) Many questions came up in conversation last Thursday–questions about American Indian religion, about the degree to which biblical stories or African mythology fed into American Indian myths, about the problem of mediation and translation (we are reading oral literatures that have perhaps changes radically overtime). If you’ve found yourself asking these kinds of questions, do some research for your post and bring some outside knowledge into your post. Make sure you link when relevant.
(2) Anthologies that cover early American literature often begin with a few creation stories or trickster tales. What three myths or legends from our assigned book would choose and why? Make sure you base your decision not on whether you found the story entertaining or not (though that might be a reason), but on what you know about the American Indian world view and some of the key features of Native American mythology (emphasis on ritual, the figure 4, twins, tricksters, etc.) and what you think would be most important to convey to an audience whose time with American Indian myth and legend will be even briefer than ours. As you defend your choices, you will likely have to offer very brief overviews of each story. Think of it as though you’re composing a head note that would accompany your selections in an anthology.
(3) Our collection of Native American myths and legends covers many distinct native cultures. Though some of the myths we read might encode what seem to be universal messages, some speak to highly particular tribal histories, beliefs, and practices. Do some research online or in the library and fill in some of the tribal context behind a particular myth or legend. You might find that a certain tribe is heavily invested in agriculture, and therefore that a myth about fertility might hold a particular significance. In addition to what you might find online, the library has a Handbook of Native American Mythology as well as an expansive Handbook of North American Indians (15 volumes).
Create your own excerpts from Cabeza de Vaca’s Narrative and justify your decisions by with reference to class discussions, Taylor’s history, or your own sense of what the text’s audience would be most interested in learning about given your sense of the state of English studies. Begin by composing a headnote (200-300 words) offering an overview of the Narrative in light of your selections (a motivated or strategic summary, that is). Then, list five selections you would include (noting the page numbers in our text). Summarize each selection (2-3 sentences) and then offer a more specific 3-5 sentence rationale for inclusion. Conclude by reflecting on selections made by the editors of Heath, Norton, or Wiley; what you think their selections suggest about the Narrative’s role in American literary history, and what (if anything) your selections make available that theirs do not. Each of you will post this to the course blog and present / discuss your selections in class. Note that you can tailor your selections in any way you want–emphasizing roles of gender, religion, or other themes in the text. It is also perfectly fine if some of your selections overlap with theirs.
For this post, you will select an exploration narrative / document from one of the regional collections listed on Tuesday’s schedule (2/11). Each book contains a number of such narratives as they relate to early Colonial exploration. After selecting regional exploration narrative and reading the relevant portion of Taylor’s American Colonies, Please address the following in your post (aim for 1000-1200 words, equivalent of about 4 pages double-spaced). Don’t answer the questions one by one, but rather address them all in the form of a well organized essay.
- Introduce and contextualize the narrative and its author using the relevant portion from Taylor’s American Colonies (in addition to web or library sources, if necessary). Feel free to quote at times, but paraphrase should predominate (you might need to use web or library sources to fill in biographical details, but use Taylor for the broader history).
- To what genre–or combination of genres–does your chosen narrative belong? (The Apologia or defense, the tragedy, the descriptive, or the promotional, and where do you see evidence for that? With that goal / genre in mind, what is the purpose of the narrative? Note that I have linked to a description of the four genres we discussed in class.
- Who do you think is the intended audience, and how does this audience influence matters of style, tone, rhetorical stance, and the inclusion or exclusion of certain details? Is the language used economic? Geographical? Religions? Militaristic?
- How does the narrative portray contact with the native population or other aspects of the new world? What does this portrayal say about the intentions and and governing ideology of the colonizing party?
- In conclusion, note what you personally found compelling or surprising or troubling about the narrative–whether that encompasses matters of style or content.
On Tuesday we spoke at some length about Puritan theology and how that affected the way Puritans lived and viewed their lives. We talked about sanctification and justification, about compunction and conviction; about the jeremiad as a genre that seems to capture not only the Puritan present, but also their version of history and their version of the soul; about the anxiety and self-examination caused by the doctrine of pre-ordained election. Our goal for tomorrow will be to begin situating the readings we did not discuss from Part III, along with Parts IV and V, within the clear theological “script” of Puritan theology we discussed. Some texts seemed to deviate or challenge the script in subtle and sometimes startling ways; others seemed to fall in line lock-step, simply expanding on an important facet or ramification of Puritan theology.
For your assigned chapter, please offer a brief overview with specific attention to how it fits–or doesn’t fit–into the Puritan theological and cultural worldview. Please include a quote or two as well (and links and images when appropriate / useful). And conclude with some personal reflections on the text.
Reflection (details TBA)