For many present-day readers, early American literature seems a nexus of far removed, boring, stodgy, and simply no longer relevant texts, ideas, authors, and tropes. Yes, we hear politicians frequently invoke the “Founding Fathers” and the ideals of the American Revolution in their rhetoric, but few people voluntarily pick up a sermon by Cotton Mather, an exploration narrative by John Smith, Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, or even Benjamin Franklin’s famous Autobiography as pleasure reading. Yet, if we look a bit more closely, early American literature and history pervade contemporary culture, especially in the 20th and 21st centuries. Beyond well-known examples like Disney’s Pocahontas and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster Hamilton that made Aaron Burr a household name, contemporary writers and artists in literary and popular venues take up and rework early American materials in both explicit and implicit ways. Such texts translate the unfamiliar language and sensibilities of early America as a usable past to find common denominators that address (and often problematize) historic and ever-present concerns with social justice and definitions of democracy for the general public. Ultimately, these links reveal the complementary nature of early American themes and their present-day echoes, establishing intricate transhistorical nexuses that scholars and teachers alike must grapple with and purposely deploy to help students overcome temporal, cultural, and linguistic distances that often limit comprehension, familiarization, and the ability to see the present-day import of our nation’s past.
In the spirit of fostering dialogue in this area, we seek paper proposals for two panels at this year's SAMLA conference—one critical and one pedagogical (complementary approaches often seen as disparate)—that explore networks connecting contemporary and early American imaginaries. Interested panelists should send abstracts of no more than 500 words to Dr. Patrick Erben (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. Rebecca Harrison (email@example.com) by July 30, 2021. The South Atlantic Modern Language Association conference will be held in Atlanta, GA, November 4-6, 2021.
Job, fellowship, and CFP listings are services that are offered by the American Studies Association to support its members in exploring professional opportunities in American studies. Any questions should be directed to the program, department, or center that has posted the opportunity.