I am awaiting the decision by our Course Approval Committee whether or not I will be able to teach a new course in the Spring term. The course will use an Amazon Kindle as the primary technology, and I hope to ask students to read a 19th century American novel each week using the resources available via Amazon. The point will be to choose novels that are no longer in print; the question will be how those texts relate to the usual canon of 19th century American novels.
I have been playing with my Kindle since I bought it several weeks ago. There is a wealth of material available, and I have already bought collections of titles by Mark Twain, Frank Norris, and Louisa May Alcott. Each of the three files offers stories or novels that are no longer available in print. I have recently finished reading Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick and Norris' Vandover the Brute, each of which would offer students a chance to experience a much needed broadening of typical 19th century reading lists. I will next approach Alcott's Hospital Sketches.
My intention for the new course will be to introduce students to writings that seem no longer to be part of the established 19th century canon. We will explore the titles in relation to those books that remain popular and that are held up as representative of the genre and the times. The question will be why some books are canonized and why some are not. But rather than a conversation of the general merits and intentions of the literary tradition, I will hope to get students to engage in creating criteria and judging works based on that criteria. And I will hope to spark a conversation about values and the way generational reading and teaching shapes what becomes a literary tradition.
All of this, of course, can also be discussed within the canon of an individual writer; for example, William Dean Howells, whose The Rise of Silas Lapham or Hazard of New Fortunes continue to get some attention while A Modern Instance, Annie Kilbourn, or Indian Summer remain virtually unknown to today's students. Even Mark Twain has titles that are virtually exiled; for example, Recollections of Joan of Arc, Is Shakespeare Dead? or The American Claimant seem to have disappeared.
All of this will be an experiment. Students may be drawn to this because of the "new" technology. I hope they will stay for the literary lesson.