English 90-3    


Captivity: From Captain John Smith to PFC Jessica Lynch

Fall 2008
Michael Drexler

Classroom: 119 Coleman


233 Vaughan Lit




Office Hours: TBA

I. Key Questions

From the era of colonizing the New World to the War in Iraq—The Sequel—no stories have captivated English and American audiences more than tales of captivity. In its basic form, a captivity narratives tells of a woman or man taken (often violently) away from home, recounts her experiences and sufferings during captivity, and ends with the drama of escape or restoration into her “proper” society. From John Smith and Pocahontas to Mary Rowlandson, James Fenimore Cooper to Herman Melville, Patty Hearst to Jessica Lynch, American cultural history might be retold in stories about home, captivity among foreign, alien peoples, and restoration home again. Why have captivity narratives been so consistently popular? How have Americans used captivity narratives to think about the home front or to explain the differences between “us” and “them?” What do captives learn about themselves and what might their stories tell us about their captors’ culture? Why have women captives been so prominent in the most celebrated captivity narratives? How do readers respond when a captivity tale deviates from the basic pattern, when the captive chooses not to return home? We will explore these questions and more by reading a variety of captivity narratives from the 17th century to the present day. We will also broaden the definition of the captivity genre by looking at African slave narratives, tales of alien abduction, and issues of captivity that emerge from contemporary problems like the War in Iraq and the American prison system.

II. Learning Objectives
English 90-5 is a Foundation Seminar. These courses are designed to meet the following learning objectives:

1) Fostering the intellectual development of first-year students through reading, speaking, listening, and writing.
Intellectual development implies improving students' ability to analyze, evaluate, and interpret materials they encounter (texts, performances, works of art, the phenomena of society and nature), to synthesize and communicate the results of their studies, and to create works of their own demonstrating the acquisition of new knowledge or application of their learning. This process increases the first-year student's capacity for critical (or higher-order) thinking complemented by the creative dimensions of imagination and insight. Through exposure to different perspectives in the Foundation courses, whether complementary or conflicting, students realize the limitations of a single viewpoint as they understand the nature and uses of evidence and practice well-reasoned and persuasive argumentation.

2) Promoting active learning and responsibility, thereby motivating students to become accountable for their own learning. Students should come to value and to emulate the characteristics of an engaged learner by taking responsibility for their own learning and understanding how specific activities are related to the learning goals of a course. They will learn to evaluate their own learning, and if necessary, will seek assistance in order to achieve educational objectives. The students will also begin to understand that learning is a social act that requires collaboration, intentional participation, self-awareness, and self-motivation.

This seminar also fulfills the W1 requirement for graduation.

III. Format and Procedures
Class will be organized around discussion both of the assigned readings and your written work. Students will keep a reading log and journal, submit two papers (each of which you will revise), and take an in-class midterm exam.

IV. Required Texts
Blank, The Exonerated
Bragg, I am a Soldier, Too

Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
Edson, Wit
Sayre, American Captivity Narratives
handouts and weblinks as indicated below on the schedule—please bring hard copies of articles to class!

V. Assignments and Grading

Participation in Classroom 15%
CoffeeHouse Comments 15%
Midterm 20%
Final Portfolio (Papers 1 and 2 combined) 50%
Paper 1 and 2 approx 20% each
Other Written Participation 10%