Consistently in print since it was first published in Philadelphia 1791, William Bartram’s remarkably unique text, Travels, played an remarkably prominent role in shaping hundreds of years of American literature. Professor William Cahill invites us to investigate the readability of this historic text personally and collaboratively. Join us for a three-meeting test run of what will eventually be a full-length course.
This mini-test-run of the class is FREE and open to all. Classes will take place on Zoom. Please be prepared to attend all three of the meetings: 6/30/20, 7/14/20 and 8/4/20 from 5:30pm-7:30pm. Registration links to the classes will be made available closer to the class date.
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During each meeting participants will read aloud from the text and talk about (A) difficulties this reading presents, (B) meanings heard in the text coming through our voices, (C) how Bartram’s text shapes our reading voices and how this feels. The instructor will give brief talks on the organization, content and themes of the book (without interpretation or evaluation) to provide background and factual orientation. We will consult historical and botanical dictionaries as needed. Participants will take turns making summary notes of the discussions. Another meaning-factor to be considered will be William Bartram’s reputation as a cultural figure today, which we may find to be at odds with the figure of the author that emerges in our readings of his text.
Challenges in reading Travels will include among other things problems of historical meaning in references and words (saliently, the book’s botanic terminology); understanding the book’s style as an artifact of 18th century “Atlantic World” literary-scientific culture; the book’s complex genre as a shaping force in its meaning; and the relation between the author’s biography and his text. The latter is particularly problematic because Travels is a principle source of facts about William Bartram’s life, for which he is virtually the sole witness. How much historical, textual and extra-textual investigation the group takes up will depend on time and participants’ preparation and curiosity. The main premise here is that the oral readings, our discussions of them, and can make up an investigation complete in itself and a template for a complete reading of Bartram’s famous book.