Today in fiction workshop, we start crits. I have sent them my critiquing guidelines, which I have kept at one page. Jed put together a longer version, which I would link to, but I am not sure where he keeps it. Courage, students! It's going to hurt, but it's for your own good. Yeah, my kids don't really believe it when I say that either.
In American Lit, we're discussing Columbus, Bartolome de las Casa, and Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. I assume y'all are mostly familiar with Columbus -- I ask the students to consider what the texts tells them about Columbus as a person, and what his goals are with this piece of writing. I ask them what his letter suggest about the relative values of kings and great cities, the power of Spanish explorers, and the relative 'importance' of the 'people without number' who already inhabit the islands. We do a v. brief spin through Orientalism here, because while America isn't the Orient, the hierarchical concepts are useful and relevant.
If you haven't read de las Casa, I recommend him to you -- his account challenges the notion tha tall these explorers were blind to the human worth of the people they encountered or mindless apologists for colonialism. I ask them what lines in the text reflect de las Casa's views, his outrage? What motivates his emotions? (Judeo-Christian teachings and ethics are often invoked.) Again, what are his goals with this piece of writing.
It's one of my favorite things about teaching this class, how these writers try to reconcile political and social practice with religious values, try to close the rift between professed creeds and actual practice. I think I read this in someone else's notes once, but I love the phrasing: "In the literature, America quarrels with itself." In theory, I'm a post-colonial lit. scholar, and we don't usually think of America as a post-colonial country, but it is, of course. And the early texts of nation-building are resonant with each other, whether it's here or in India or in Nigeria.
Cabeza de Vaca is unusual because he attempts to present the native peoples' way of life as much as possible from the inside. He pays attention to the lives of women, and the locals refused to believe the Cabeza de Vaca and his group were from the same race as the "Christian slavers." It's fascinating, reading these accounts against each there.
Okay, I think writing that all out has helped re-ignite my energy for the semester. Onward!