Race and Captivity in the Early Atlantic World

Siân Silyn Roberts
Queens College, CUNY

First off, many thanks to Ed and Duncan for producing such an elegant and teachable edition of this novella! What follows is a broad account of our class discussion, and I’ve included the in-class exercises I gave my students at the end of this report.

This semester I included Amelia: Or, The Faithless Briton (A) for the first time in my early American literature survey, 1592-1855 (this course is required by all English majors, but if also offered as a Gen Ed course, so it attracts a variety of students from different disciplines, at different stages of their degrees).  We read it alongside Charlotte Temple (CT), and both texts are included under a broader section on the syllabus entitled “Race and Captivity in the Early Atlantic World.”  So I introduce my students to sentimental literature as a variation of the captivity narrative, where the cultural purity of a vulnerable female comes under assault from a force that interrupts the cohesion of the original community.  Since this is a survey, my aim in this class is to introduce students to the broader principles and characteristics of representative modes of writing from the colonial, national, and antebellum periods (ethnography, captivity narrative, slave narrative, sentimental novel, sermon, gothic short story, etc.).  We only spend a week on sentimentalism, since this course spans a huge period of U.S. literary production.  It’s definitely a challenge cramming this enormously complex form into one short week.
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