Reading Religion and Rights in The Factory Girl

Devin Zuber
Graduate Theological Union (GTU) at Berkeley

I taught Sarah Savage’s The Factory Girl in an advanced seminar at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) (, a consortium for different religious studies and graduate theological degree programs in Berkeley, California. Typical of such seminars at the GTU, “Trauma and Testimony: Literature, Religion, and Human Rights” ( had an extremely diverse student body: both those divinity students ostensibly pursuing an M.Div. degree for practical work as chaplains or ministers, as well as MA students from our Art & Religion program, in addition to several PhD students whose approach to religion or theology was wholly secular and academic. For some of the divinity students, thus, the ethics of how they were to instrumentalize biblical text, and use the words as a way for living in the world, was something they had spent time thinking through for themselves, and I was curious to see how they would contextualize the character Mary, and her consistent, didactic exegesis. As Duncan Faherty and Ed White’s excellent introduction so artfully brings out, The Factory Girl lies at a fascinating intersection between early American literature and the history of 19th century American Protestant theology, and I was looking forward to how this GTU seminar, with its various seminarians, might help me develop new perspectives on a text that inherently raises questions about the relationship between religion (and/or religious institutions) and literature. Continue reading “Reading Religion and Rights in The Factory Girl”

“She Really Wants to Dance!”

D. Berton Emerson
Cal Poly Pomona

In an upper-level seminar that the catalogue titles “Early American Literature” and describes as featuring “critical analysis of literature written in or about North American before 1820,” I selected readings appearing between 1789 and 1815 to examine the various ways Americans worked through the meanings of Revolutionary ideals played out in everyday life. Few of the twenty students were familiar with any of the texts in the course, so I opened the course with the general conceit that, amidst all the creative energies of social, political, economic, and cultural life after a successful military revolution, citizens and statesmen struggled to come up with a name for the new nation. Was this a minor issue, I asked, or emblematic of ongoing tensions between ideals, reality, and the narratives we weave to make sense of it all? To answer this question of naming and narrating, we would examine the ways a handful of early American authors grappled with the values, oversights, and paradoxes of theories and praxis in the new nation. Continue reading ““She Really Wants to Dance!””

Representing Women’s Work

Andreá N. Williams
The Ohio State University

I taught The Factory Girl in an undergraduate survey, Colonial and U.S. Literature to 1865. Given my own research interests in class and labor in nineteenth-century U.S. fiction, as in my book Dividing Lines: Class Anxiety and Postbellum Black Fiction (Michigan, 2013), I wanted to draw my students’ attention to a number of nineteenth-century texts that both highlight and obscure labor. Elsewhere in the class, we read Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and “The Tartarus of Maids,” Rebecca Harding Davis’s “Life in the Iron Mills,” and slave narratives that expose African American labor exploitation. Savage’s text was a useful addition to the course. In the introduction to The Factory Girl, editors Ed White and Duncan Faherty immediately note the text for its “lack of industrial details.” This observation led our class to consider two opening questions: How do authors write about work without showing it? If the text’s major setting isn’t the workplace, where does the titular factory girl perform her most central work? Using a more liberal understanding of “work,” our class traced the various forms of labor that the protagonist Mary performs, including factory work, teaching, childrearing, and the affective labor of producing moral sentiments in her friends and neighbors. Overall, the book was well-received by students, and I would teach it again. Continue reading “Representing Women’s Work”

“The Business of ‘The Factory Girl’”

Max White
Northeastern University

Allow me to begin with a digression – an overview of my teaching circumstances, and how I managed to “just teach one” – before I present some of my students’ responses to Sarah Savage’s The Factory Girl. As a graduate student at a large institution without a sizeable population of English majors, my teaching opportunities are abundant in quantity, but limited to composition classes. Thus, I taught The Factory Girl in a course not usually associated with literature – at all – let alone early nineteenth-century novels: Advanced Writing in Business Administration. The course fulfills the second of the university’s two undergraduate writing requirements, and “focus[es] on the writing skills necessary for creating effective documents and presentations in the business world,” according to my syllabus. However, the course really is more complicated than a paint-by-numbers approach to memo writing: students “develop expertise in audience analysis, critical research, peer review, and revision” and “generate and pursue lines of inquiry and search, collect, and select sources appropriate to their writing projects,” again, according to the syllabus (here, a combination of my own course description and the Writing Program Learning Goals). Student research and writing provides the vast majority of the course materials, and class meetings consist of lectures, workshops, and roundtables that emphasize research conventions, audience, genre, and style as analytical categories through which students can better understand scholarly and professional writing in their fields. In other words, the course is informed by analytical, rhetorical, and discursive skills that are foundational to the humanities, even as it trains future business professionals. Continue reading ““The Business of ‘The Factory Girl’””

Factory Teaching

Thomas Hallock
University of South Florida

We hate directives that come from above. The Provost attends some conference on educational leadership, maybe reads the latest pedagogical trend, then then asks faculty to revamp an entire curriculum. A few years back, faced with accreditation woes, my campus buzzed with assessment talk. The terms felt like factory education. The acronyms threatened to crush my soul: Academic Learning Compacts (ALC’s), Student Learning Outcomes (SLO’s).

But my department did something smart: we worked ahead of deadline. Facing budget cuts, we took the opportunity to justify our own relevance and framed Student Learning Outcomes around courses we already taught. I drew up this SLO for early American literature: develop a knowledge of literary or artistic conventions, rhetorical or metaphorical figures, or forms characteristic of specific modes, genres, or traditions. Continue reading “Factory Teaching”