Just Teach One

Recovery of neglected or forgotten texts is an integral part of teaching and writing in early American studies, and the current moment is in part defined by the strange blend of opportunities and obstacles for such work. Digital versions of texts are available in ways they never before have been, yet access is uneven and subject to vulnerable library budgets. Furthermore, even when such texts are obtainable, they are difficult to read and almost always lack the textual apparatus so important for the unknown text. Meanwhile, print editions face formidable challenges—publishers shy away from unknown texts; works with modest sales fall out of print; books become more and more expensive; and many institutions do not reward the labor of recovery, be that through graduate projects or scholarly editions, as they once did. Then there are the tremendous challenges of classroom practice—finding the time to prepare new materials, rethinking syllabi and assignments, and fitting unusual works into course rubrics geared for the canonical. One could go on with subtler but no less daunting challenges: the absence of supporting secondary scholarship; the risk of reducing the new text to an auxiliary of some canonical standard; the pedagogical aversion to anonymity; the preference for texts of particular lengths or genre clarity; the apparent relative simplicity of “new” texts, and so on. The challenges are formidable, and can make the work of recovery seem a form of gambling.

Just Teach One hopes to provide a modest attempt to address this often frustrating situation. First, we hope to provide a body of publicly available scholarly transcriptions of early texts, with basic editing and apparatus. Second, we hope to provide a critical mass of teachers incorporating the new text into their classroom. And finally, and most importantly, these teachers provide reflections on the text, insights and reaction, intertextual possibilities, and so on, in ways that should provide guidance for other teachers.

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