Week One: Reading Discussion

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Week One: Reading Discussion

SteveBrandon
Administrator
Use this thread to discuss the reading from week one, that is, de Creveceour's _Letters from an American Farmer_ (1787), Whitman, Wheatley, and Stowe.  de Creveceour's ideas on what is an American have influenced generations, and they were brand spanking new in 1787.  Think about that. 1787 was the year our current constitution--our second, by the way--was adopted, so the United State's was a brand new nation; so, very few people outside of America knew what they could expect from the people or life in the nation.  We were still working all this out.  

de Creveceour was writing for other Europeans.  Specifically, he was writing for other Frenchmen.  Even though he spoke of himself as an American, he'd just moved here from France, and he was educating Europe and France on America and what it meant to be American--all while we and he were figuring these things out for our selves.  Think of him and his Letters as you would travel pieces in the _National Geographic_ magazine today, and you wouldn't be much wrong.  Of course, photography hadn't been invented, so he has to tell his readers about America in words, and they have no way of easily getting in touch with him.  The fastest letter would take a couple of months to get to American from Europe and back, so he has to try and think of all their questions and answer them.  This is why his writing seems long winded by modern standards and why so much early literature seems long winded.  

As you read, slow down.  This is, perhaps, the single most important piece of advice I can give you about the reading.  Don't rush.  Read out loud.  It wouldn't have been uncommon for something like the Letters to have been read out loud and discussed in a coffee house, and folks read to get everthing out of a text, not to get through and move onto the next piece of entertainment.  Books were expensive, and folks expected them to be challenging and repay repeated reading and discussion.

Regardless, pretend you've never heard of America.   The original readers wouldn't have. Pretend you are in a world without photographs and TV and no knowledge except rumor, newspapers, and a hundred or so books you may or may not have read.  Now think that you've heard that this place is a land of freedom, a land which had just revolted against it's king and one of the mightiness armies on Earth.  Now think, if such a small, strange country could do this, imagine what France and Europe might do.  In ten years, the French revolution would be in full swing.

No read, think, and write with questions.

Steve