Linda K. Hughes and Sarah R. Robbins, eds. Teaching Transatlanticism: Resources for Teaching Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Print Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015. xix, 268p. ISBN 9780748694464. £29.99 (paperback). Also available in hardback, epub and PDF.
This new collection of essays, edited by Linda Hughes and Sarah Robbins, offers a cornucopia of material for teachers and students of transatlantic studies. The volume focuses mainly on transatlantic literary history: in general, authors and texts form the basis for analysis. Publishing and printing history are less prominent, although the questions raised are highly relevant to the histories of authorship, reading, and publishing.
The collection consists of an introduction followed by 18 chapters divided into six parts: 1. ‘Curricular Histories and Key Trends’; 2. ‘Organizing Curriculum Through Transatlantic Lenses’; 3. ‘Teaching Transatlantic Figures’; 4. ‘Teaching Genres in Transatlantic Context’; 5. ‘Envisioning Digital Transatlanticism’; and 6. ‘Looking Forward.’ In their introduction, Hughes and Robbins position transatlantic seminars and teaching within a larger context of “global learning” and “globalized” higher education. They focus on the nineteenth century as a critical time period, because intercultural and transnational exchange accelerated due to rapid developments in travel and communication, while national identities took on growing importance in the literary market.
The volume is most distinctive for its embrace of collaboration and multiple perspectives. Hughes and Robbins make a compelling case for thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries, for team-teaching, for team-thinking, team-writing, and team-editing. The book includes texts by over 30 individual contributors, from graduate student research assistants to well-established scholars. For instance, Meredith L. McGill’s chapter on “Genre and Nationality in Nineteenth-Century British and American Poetry” argues that a transatlantic perspective requires the reorganization of existing knowledge, critical approaches, and literary periodization. Although her discussion begins with her own experience teaching a course in 2012, she includes a condensed version of an internet conversation with six students whose feedback she invited after the course was completed. The book also offers engaging examples of professional memoir. Susan M. Griffin’s chapter, “On Not Knowing Any Better,” traces her slightly haphazard professional development in relation to transatlantic studies. This chapter is mirrored by the closing reflections of four former graduate students who attended the first transatlantic seminar co-taught by Hughes and Robbins. In their poignant contributions, they consider the influence of transatlantic reading (and indeed thinking) on their work and self-identification as academics.
Another of the volume’s strengths is the variety of approaches to the topic. Some chapters (e.g. Daniel Hack’s “‘Flat Burglary’? A Course on Race, Appropriation, and Transatlantic Print Culture”) make suggestions for entire courses on transatlanticism, while others (eg. Kate Flint’s “The Canadian Transatlantic”) recommend case studies for individual lessons. Flint’s essay offers a step-by-step plan for teaching the special case of Canada within a transatlantic seminar, focusing on the writers Susanna Moodie (born in Suffolk, England; emigrated to Canada) and Pauline Johnson (Canadian-born). In addition, there are three chapters examining the potential of digital humanities methods and instruments for this developing field.
The collection ranges widely and offers a hands-on, pragmatic approach to teaching transatlantic literary history. The range of pedagogic approaches and unconventional forms of knowledge exchange and collaborative writing are inspiring on a meta-level. The companion website includes rich materials for teaching and is a work-in-progress – readers, students, and scholars are welcome to contribute. Materials have been posted regularly, although the discussion threads (“Conversations”) have been dormant for some time. In any case, SHARPists are certain to make ample use of Teaching Transatlanticism as a valuable resource for courses on nineteenth-century authorship, reading and, to a lesser extent, publishing.
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz