Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Below are the transmediation links and contexts described in the chapter, "Re-Visioning the American Literature Survey for Teachers and Other Wide-Awake Humans," in the forthcoming collection, Teaching the Literature Survey Course:  New Approaches for College Faculty (West Virginia University Press, 2017).

In the fall of 2016, my campus was victim to multiple incidents of racist vandalism targeting African American students:  epithets and threats spray-painted and hand-scrawled on the walls of classroom buildings, in several dorms, and on the elevators, including one a week before the November election-- “N****** Go Home.”      

At a faculty-student rally in a courtyard dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, outside the School of Art Building, site of the most recent racist graffiti—an art student’s comment underscored the difficulty students had feeling welcome in either the classrooms or curriculum when encounters with diversity too often fall into catch-all courses or electives and when students and teachers both avoid talking about anything unsettling, falling lazily into the consistency of traditional course content.  The result was a pedagogical silence, and growing class absences by African American students, including my own.  

Below are the transmediations from early November 2016, used to help students in my class think through their own experiences over their last several weeks in class, on campus, and/or in the world.

Their opening instructions were simply to "look, listen, read, and then look again."  I offered them four ways to enter into conversation with these new texts, since the only shared text we had was the imperfect experience of life as Eastern Michigan students in fall 2016:

-a connection to their lives or other texts
-a question about the texts
-a surprise encountered reading, viewing, listening
-an extension to teaching or literary study

The problems of course haven't disappeared, and the invitation is worth taking up again at the end of another semester or whenever readers might be encountering this post.

Look, Listen, Read, and then Look Again.

IMAGE 1:  Lineage [2008]  by Charles McGee (1924-) [Located outside the EMU Student Center]

IMAGE 2:  Officer of the Hussars (2007) [On display at the DIA]
Kehinde Wiley (1977-)

MUSIC:  "Memphis Blues" (1972) performed by Phineas Newborn, Jr.(1931-1989)
Written [1912] by W.C. Handy (1873-1958)

TEXT 1:  "We Wear the Mask" (1896)

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872 - 1906

We wear the mask that grins and lies, 
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— 
This debt we pay to human guile; 
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile 
And mouth with myriad subtleties,

Why should the world be over-wise, 
In counting all our tears and sighs? 
Nay, let them only see us, while 
     We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries 
To thee from tortured souls arise. 
We sing, but oh the clay is vile 
Beneath our feet, and long the mile, 
But let the world dream otherwise, 
     We wear the mask!
TEXT 2: "Incident" (1924)
        Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

Once riding in old Baltimore,
       Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
       Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
      And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
      His tongue, and called me, 'Nigger.'

I saw the whole of Baltimore
      From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
      That's all that I remember.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Snap the Whip--but Don't Carry It All

He [Queequeg] only asked for water...and leaning against the bulwarks, and mildly eyeing those around him, seemed to be saying to himself--"It's a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians.  We cannibals must help these Christians."
      Herman Melville, "The Wheelbarrow," Moby-Dick 

...however we may justify certain exclusive habits in populous places, they are strikingly and confessedly ridiculous in the wilderness.  What can be more absurd than a feeling of proud distinction, where a stray spark of fire, a sudden illness, or a day's contre-temps, may throw you entirely upon the kindness of your humblest neighbor?
     Caroline Kirkland, A New Home, Who'll Follow? (1839)

As our reading of Moby-Dick had us following Queequeg and Ishmael setting out to join the crew of The Pequod, we also took on Caroline Kirkland's remarkable 1839 A New Home, Who'll Follow?--a fictionalized, realistic, and humorous account of her adventures as a settler in the wilds of Southeast Michigan.  Both offer reminders of the need for an ethics of care and community in the face of difference and difficulty.

And student transmediations for this day highlighted some of that feeling of community (and its precarious connections):

Image:  Winslow Homer, Snap the Whip
 Snap the Whip

Music:   The Decemberists, "Don't Carry It All"

But then the text transmediation also moves us perhaps to an older,  more violent, and certainly more Queequeg-like religious ethos:

excerpt from end of Book V of Gilgamesh
(Stephen Mitchell's 2004 "New English Version" pg 128-129)
A gentle rain fell onto the mountains.

They took their axes and penetrated
deeper into the forest, they went
chopping down cedars, the wood chips flew,
Gilgamesh chopped down the mighty trees,
Enkidu hewed the trunks into timbers.
Enkidu said,


“We have chopped down the trees of the Cedar Forest,
we have brought to earth the highest of trees,
the cedar whose top once pierced the sky.
We will make it into a gigantic door,
a hundred feet high and thirty feed wide,
we will float it down the Euphrates to Enlil's
temple in Nippur. No men shall go through it,
but only the gods. May Enlil delight in it,
may it be a joy to the people of Nippur.”

They bound logs together and built a raft.
Enkidu steered it down the great river.
Gilgamesh carried Humbaba's head.


When I first encountered this text as a graduate student in the Bronx, sitting in Joanne Dobson's seminar on 19th century women writers, I had little reason to believe then that twenty years later, I'd be living and teaching just a few miles down the road from Kirkland's SE Michigan settlement.  The book became something of a favorite of mine, capturing something of the sectional dislocation I experienced as a southerner in the Big Apple.  Now that I am living and teaching in the Midwest, it continues to offer a chance for me and students to experience local literature in a global/glocal age.

A scene early in the text, highlights the vexed nature of such local/global encounters when Mrs. Clavers (Kirkland's narrator and alter-ego) is tasked with naming the new village.  The plot would be drawn up, "lithographed and circulated through the United States, and, to cap the climax, printed in gold, splendidly framed, and hung up in Detroit, in the place 'where merchants most do congregate.'"  Faced with the pressure of posterity, of wide circulation, and the judgment of her friends and readers back East, Mrs. Clavers quips, "I tried for an aboriginal designation, as most characteristic and unworn.  I recollected a young lady speaking with enthusiastic admiration of our Indian names, and quoting Ypsilanti as a specimen."  She settles on Montacute, drawn she says from her literary reading, underscoring the narrativizing and fictionalizing of US settlements.

The earlier joke about Ypsilanti resonates differently when one lives and works in Ypsilanti (home to Eastern Michigan University), of course.  As a conflation of  civic place, native space, and an international figure of democracy--General Georges Ypsilanti, one of the heroes of the Greek War of Independence--the anecdote points to the strange collision of local and global discourses--and its long history in our own readerly backyards--that is always potentially present in the American Renaissance.  The question of 'the American' or 'America' is posed simultaneously (and continually) against both small and large points of contact.  Not just asking what the shape of that new home will be--but who gets to inhabit it.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

First Impressions, Loomings, and Circles

The eye is the first circle;
the horizon which it forms is the second;
and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end.
  from Emerson, "Circles" (1841)

My class begins--as it always does--with a set of transmediations (Image, Music, Text) that capture in some way one's understanding of the shared readings and seek to represent that through another sign system.

For the first class, I provide all three, but in subsequent classes, students bring in transmediations of their own:  a different person responsible for each 'text.'

So, as we prepared to talk about our first encounters with Moby Dick, I displayed Thomas Cole's painting (A View from Mt. Holyoke, 1838),  the short excerpt above of the poetic epigraph to Emerson's essay "Circles,"

while simultaneously playing the song, "First Impressions" from Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mark O'Connor's 1996 collaboration, Appalachia Waltz (1996) [linked below]

Try it out for yourselves after you have read through the etymology, extracts, and the first few chapters of Moby-Dick--up to Ishmael's own first impressions of Queequeg.

What new ways of thinking about the text(s) do you have now?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Serializing MOBY-DICK

This winter 2016 semester, this space will attempt to offer regular dispatches from two new adventures in literature pedagogy from my course in  "The American Renaissance:  1830-1860."

My students and I  will be taking on two separate projects to get a little closer to the rich interdisciplinary and inter-discursive nature of 19th century American texts :

1) a "Time Travel" reading of multiple, consecutive issues of mid-century magazines featuring the work of canonical authors, as well as the many contemporaries publishing beside them in a variety of disciplines.

Each selection focuses upon a different time span and literary turning point.
  • The United States Democratic Review (1830s; including early printings of several of Hawthorne's "Twice-Told Tales")  
  • The Dial (1840s, including Margaret Fuller's "The Great Lawsuit")
  •  Putnam's Monthly (early 1850s, including the holiday issue sequence of Melville's "Bartleby, a Tale of Wall-Street")
  • Harper's New Monthly Magazine (late 1850s, including poetry and stories by Emerson, Whitman, Alice Cary, and others) 
2) a (Re?) "Serialization" of Moby-Dick.  Though a couple key chapters did make their way into the literary monthlies of the time, Melville's novel did not receive a full serialized treatment in its day.    My students will work with partners through a dialogue journal experience of the novel to coincide with the whole-class, shared reading of other texts.  I've given a suggested breakdown of ~11 chapters each week over the next 12 weeks (students having read the opening sections--Extracts, Etymologies, and Chapters 1-4, through Ishmail's first encounter with Queequeg--over the winter break between semesters), but student partnerships can set their own reading schedule.

In the past I have used this blog space rather infrequently to share or post information or share ideas and practices that were part of talks or presentations.  But because of a simultaneous project in my undergraduate Writing Pedagogy course inviting students to explore unfamiliar genres (more on that project in a later post), I've committed myself to try to make this a more regular and interactive space. 

For the next few months, then, it will attempt to offer dispatches of this experiment--itself serializing the process of re-serialization a mammoth 19th century novel for a 21st century context.

Our schedule of readings is below.  Feel free to join along and/or comment along the way!


LITR 569  American Renaissance 1830-1860
John Staunton
Eastern Michigan University

Preliminary Schedule of Reading/Topics/Assignments Due (Subject to change):

Week 1            M 1/11             Introductions

Melville, Moby-Dick “Etymology”/”Extracts”; Chs 1-3: “Loomings”, “The Carpet-Bag”, “The Spouter Inn”
Week 2            M 1/18             No Class, MLK Day
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 4-14 (“The Counterpane”-”Nantucket”)

Week 3            M 1/25             READINGS: Caroline Kirkland, A New Home, Who’ll Follow?
                                                Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
                                                 Critical Readings TBA
                                                Transmediation 1
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 15-25 (“Chowder”- ‘Postscript”)

Week 4            M 2/1               READINGS: Ralph Waldo Emerson ("Circles", "The American Scholar," and
                                                "The Writer" and/or "The Poet") Link
                                                Margaret Fuller (Woman in the 19th Century) Link to Donna Campbell's American Literature site at Washington State University

                                                Transmediation 2
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 26-36 (“Knights and Squires”- “The Quarter Deck * Ahab and All”)

Week 5            M 2/8               READINGS: Julia Ward Howe, The Hermaphrodite

                                                X Version of Critical Inquiry (Proposal and Abstract)
                                                Transmediation 3
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 37-47 (“Sunset”- “The Mat-Maker”)                                            

Week 6            M 2/15             mid -19th century Poetic Forms 1
                                               selections from Whitman, "Song of Myself" (1855 version)
                                               Longfellow, "Evangeline," Sigourney,  & others)
                                                Critical Teaching Presentation 2
                                                (Critical Readings TBA by group)
                                                __Students 1 , 2 & 3_____
                                                 Transmediation 4
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 48-58 (“The First Lowering”- “Brit”)
Week 7            M 2/22             NO CLASS—EMU WINTER BREAK
 Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 59-69 (“Squid”- “The Funeral”)                                             
Week 8            M 2/29             Happy Leap Year!
                                                Time Travel Reading Presentations          
                                                (Primary and Critical Readings TBA by groups)
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 70-80 (“The Sphynx” – “The Nut”)
Week 9            M 3/7               READINGS: Henry David Thoreau, Walden Link and " Resistance to Civil
                                               & Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes Link  [google ebook]

                                                 Annotated Bibliography for Critical Inquiry
 Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 81-91 (“The Pequod Meets the Virgin”- “The Pequod Meets the Rosebud”)

 Week 10          M 3/14            READINGS:
Harriet Beecher Stowe [Excerpts]
 Link to the Re-Serialization from  The National Era version with contemporary critical commentary
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life [Excerpts] Link
                                                Critical Teaching Presentation 3
                                                (Critical Readings TBA by group)
                                                __ __Students 1 & 2__
                                                 Transmediation 5
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
 Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 92-102 (“Ambergris” - “A Bower in the Arsacides”)
Week 11          M 3/21             READINGS: 19th Century Prose Forms (Selections from
                                                Hawthorne, Poe, Cary and others)
                                                 Critical Teaching Presentation 4
                                                (Critical Readings TBA by group)
                                                __ _Students 1 & 2_______
                                                 Transmediation 6
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs.103-113 (“Measurement of a Whale’s Skeleton” – “The Forge”)

Week 12          M 3/28             Y Version Critical Inquiry (submitted for peer review in doc

Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 114- 124 (“The Gilder”- “The Needle”)

Week 13          M 4/4               mid -19th century Poetic Forms 2 (READINGS TBA)

                                                Transmediation 7
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________                                   

Melville, Moby-Dick, Chs. 125- Epilogue (“The Log and Line”- “Epilogue”)

Week 14          M 4/11             mid- 19th century Prose Forms 2 (READINGS TBA)

                                                Transmediation 8
                                                Image ____Student A ______
                                                Music____Student B _____
                                                Text ____Student C ________
Week 15          M 4/18             Readings to be selected from LC/DJ Texts
                                                Dialogue Journal Presentations

FINALS           F 4/22              Z Version Critical Inquiry and Abstracts by 7pm


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Locating Sites of Regional Literature--A Sample Engagement for Teachers and Students

Below is a sample engagement I used with SE Michigan Secondary English Teachers to help them locate and name  some of the material resources and places available to support a curriculum and inquiry into Local Literature.  They are offered here for you to borrow and adapt for your own classroom.  Please share your efforts and results in the comments.

Engagement #1:  Locating Sites of Regional Literature
Over the next week your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to investigate some of your local resources available for ‘teaching local literature in a global age.’  Between now and next class meeting  you will visit four sites—one virtual, the others a bit more substantial—to trace what sorts of texts and materials remain accessible for 21st century readers interested in pursuing local literature.

Here’s what you need to do:

1)    Go to you school library with a copy of our list of suggested local literature.  How many does your library have?  

2)    Then, try to find physical copy of at least one of the texts (likely the one you’ve selected for your dialogue journal or literature circle readings, but it need not be).  If your school does not have a copy available, find out why.  (You may need to talk with your school librarian or media specialist or other faculty).  If your school does have a copy of the text, where is it located?  How many copies of the text are available?  What other texts are near this one?  Who else is there when you are searching for your book?  What are they doing?  If they are reading or browsing books, try to find out what they are reading (you may be direct or discreet, but don’t be creepy by stalking other patrons).  Make a note of all these things.  AND if you find a copy of the text, sit down somewhere to examine the book and to read the first page or two.  What is the most interesting, unusual, or compelling thing, passage, phrase, or word on the first page?  Whether you find a copy of the text here or not, then….

3) Go to your local PUBLIC library to find a copy of the text in #2.  Again, if your local library or branch does not have a copy of the text, find out why.  Is this a text that you can request through MeLCat?  If so, do so, if the library cannot provide a copy for you.  If the library does have a copy, then obtain a copy.  Note where the text is located within the library? What section is it in?  How many copies are available?  What other texts or materials are nearby?  As above, also take note of other patrons, especially in the section where you find your text.  AND if you find a copy of the text, sit down somewhere to examine the book and to read the first page or two.  Upon this reading and in light of your past experiences with the text and/or trying to find the text, what is the most interesting, unusual, or compelling thing, passage, phrase, or word on the first page? Then…

4)  Go to the nearest commercial bookstore in your community.  Does this store carry a copy of your text?  If not, why not?  Can you order the book for delivery there?  If so, what are the costs to you (time, money, resources) above the cost of the book? If the store does have a copy available, where is it located?  How many copies do they have and in what condition are they?   As above, notice the other patrons and their activity.  If you prefer to have your own copy of the book (rather than the library versions), purchase the text.    Again, sit down somewhere to examine the book and to read the first page or two.  NOW, what is the most interesting, unusual, or compelling thing, passage, phrase, or word on the first page?  If nothing changes with this reading, think about why that is and write about it.  

 5)    Bring your field notes and all copies of the book you have managed to secure to class.