Topic outline

  • First Contact: Voices of America's Frontiers


    We’ll explore written descriptions of North American first encounters in this intermediate-level literature course, including texts such as the Vinland Sagas and Cabeza de Vaca’s narrative in addition to British colonial writers such as Mary Rowlandson and William Wood. Other sources may be French, American, Russian, or even Chinese as we work to dislocate—or perhaps relocate—the concept of American exceptionalism and common origins. Concurrently, we’ll study Native American writers such as Sarah Winnemucca as well as various oral traditions. While the course will include literary methods, the primary texts and issues explored may also be of interest for students of history, anthropology, Native American studies, and American Studies.


  • Course Readings and Themes

    This list is not exhaustive, but is posted here to show that class will be broken into five thematic units with multiple readings in each unit. We are moving chronologically, at least most of the time.

    Intro Class: The Myth of Pocahontas

    The Vinland Sagas

    The Vinland Sagas (c. 1200's)

    Joseph Bruchac, "The Ice Hearts" (1992)


    The Spanish Experience

    Letter by Columbus & The Requerimiento (1493 / 1510)

    Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca (1527)

    Gaspar Perez de Villagra, "History of New Mexico" (1610)


    British Colonies

    Pocahontas and John Smith, revisited texts (1608 and later)

    William Wood, New England’s Prospect (1634)

    Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682)


    Farther Afield

    Africa: Venture Smith, A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa (1798) []

    Alaska: “When Russians Were Killed” (c. 1794-95)

    Hawaii: James Cook stories (c. 1778)


    Western Contacts

    Thomas Jefferson, “Life of Captain Lewis” (1813)

    Lewis and Clark, journal excerpts (1804-06)

    Washington Irving, A Tour on the Prairies (1835)

    Sarah Winnemucca,  Life Among the Piutes (1883)

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