4 Reasons to Stop Blaming Washington Irving for Christopher Columbus

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BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

This blog is my response to Twitter posts referencing Washington Irving that I sifted through on Columbus Day.

On Monday, I kept thinking we Washington Irving scholars need to put together a book addressing recent comments and questions about Irving and Columbus, but before we can finish a book, I need a link to something somewhat substantial to send along to those who consistently share misinformation and shallow interpretations.

My cause today is not Christopher Columbus. I’m not trying to argue for or against his legacy. Greater experts on Christopher Columbus than I should guide that discussion. My purpose is to defend Washington Irving. Because I know Irving’s writing and biography, my blood boils when I read nonsense about him.

To sum it up, I’ve got four nuggets, which should send smart tweeters back to the library. So here it goes. I will be passing along this information to social media “influencers” in the future, until we have a more in-depth response in book form.

#1 Christopher Columbus was a thing before Washington Irving wrote about him.

I wish Washington Irving were as influential as some people make him out to be, not for the sake of Columbus, but for the new heights the Washington Irving Society could soar if our man of letters were such a big deal.

Too many folks post that America cared nothing about Christopher Columbus until Irving wrote about him. This simply is not true. False. Incorrect. If you’re posting this sort of thing, please stop, and go back to check some reliable sources.

I often tell people to read some literature before Washington Irving. Writers referred to America as Columbia: Phillis Wheatley and Royall Tyler are two writers from the 1700s who quickly come to mind.

Irving’s Sketch Book helped mend fences between England and America after the Revolution, but it wasn’t the only thing. Irving’s Alhambra increased interest in visiting Spain, but it wasn’t the only thing. Irving did not create a Christopher Columbus presence in America. He certainly contributed to America’s reading of Columbus, but he did not introduce Columbus to nineteenth-century Americans.

#2 Few people have read the original Christopher Columbus papers in Spanish. Irving did.

Instead of focusing on one tiny segment of his Columbus biography, where he mentions the world being flat, please consider the rest of Irving’s writing for context. Irving was fluent in Spanish, and he spent quality time digging through the archives while living in Spain. He did some heavy translation work to present information on Columbus to the English-speaking public, and he’s slammed for one comment.

Experts in the publishing business will tell you they’ve never printed a perfect book, writers will tell you they’ve never written a perfect book, and not a single one of Irving’s books is perfect.

Because no perfect text exists, we must have skills to sift through flawed texts to get as close to the truth as we can. That’s what I teach my students, and that’s a lesson many tweeters need, too. We have so many gaps in our early American literature and history, so we must trudge through bias to get at the truth best we can. Irving gives us insight into Columbus we wouldn’t have otherwise.

#3 Irving wrote satire.

Most educated people have only read “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” but a complete collection of his writing looks like an Encyclopedia Britannica set from my childhood. Those two stories represent a few thin pages of the thousands of pages he published.

Scholars who know Irving chuckle at his comments about the earth being flat in Columbus, because we know his History of New York, a spoof on the founding of New York, and we know the pen names he hid behind in his other “histories,” which he admitted to doctoring. When you present a complaint about one of his books not being 100% factual, you’re putting ignorance on display. Please read more from him.

#4 Irving needs to be rediscovered.

To argue for Irving’s relevance, I want to place his work in the context of The 1619 Project.

Rather than trying to sum up the Pulitzer-Prize winning study, created by Nikole Hannah-Jones, I will quote from the source: “The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative” (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html)

After President Trump’s recent suggestion of eliminating Critical Race Theory from our classrooms, and launching a 1776 Commission to replace 1619 Project perspectives, I have been brewing over this matter. My thoughts about the project merged with my frustrations about Columbus.

My conclusion about both: The 1619 Project and Irving’s writing suggest other frameworks for seeing America’s past.

Irving’s prolific body of work presents frameworks, which were not mainstream in his day and are still controversial. His writing reimagines ways of viewing America’s history and literature.

Irving’s writing makes the case for a much stronger connection between America and Spain in contrast to the traditional road we’ve paved back to the Puritans. By writing of Christopher Columbus as an American hero, he attempts to place him at the center of American values. Americans may not want a greater attachment to Spain, but Irving still makes the case.

Irving also considers the Dutch perspective in A History of New York, “Rip Van Winkle,” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Again, Americans may not want a greater attachment to the Dutch either, but Irving still makes the case.

Like The 1619 Project, Irving’s shaping attempts to adjust our thinking of the Pilgrim narrative.

In fact, Irving begins Book I of A History of New York with the following introductory note: “Being, like all introductions to American histories, very learned, sagacious, and nothing at all to the purpose; containing divers profound theories and philosophic speculations, which the idle reader may totally overlook, and begin at the next book” (Library of America 383).

Irving’s satire on Dutch settlement gave him room to explore all kinds of theoretical possibilities for reshaping the way we look at America’s literature and history, and we should give ourselves room to reconsider him as well.

And that wraps up my four nuggets. Until my next post, please stay healthy, and vote.

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Feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a thoughtful reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays. If things get hectic and other jobs and responsibilities take precedence over author society business, my email responses might get backlogged, and therefore be delayed by weeks or months. However, I will eventually get around to reading and responding to all messages, most likely on Wednesdays.

Published in: on October 14, 2020 at 7:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Takeaways from Washington Irving’s Repeated Takeoffs

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

He was an attorney, yet he quit practicing.

His family owned a hardware business, yet it went bankrupt.

He was ambassador to Spain, yet he quit the job.

He was engaged, yet he never married.

He proposed to another woman, yet she declined.

He died single.

Irving quit on marriage, diplomacy, business, the law, and perhaps dozens of other goals.

For instance, I’m pretty sure he gave up on public speaking after attempting to introduce Charles Dickens to a large crowd in New York.

But the one thing he didn’t quit on–and the one important thing his failures produced–was his writing.

He never gave up on writing and publishing, even when the reception of his writing didn’t go so well; Tales of a Traveller, for example, which caused him to flee England and take off for Spain.

And in his final years, Irving churned out five thick volumes on George Washington. He gave up his travel itinerary in his later years, but he never set aside his writing agenda.

We like to watch the underdog come from behind and win. Washington Irving didn’t start out poor and end up rich, so his story isn’t the classic rags-to-riches American narrative, but his episodes of epic failure were followed by moments of success, and he kept going. That seems pretty American to me, too.

These extreme moments of failure followed by respites of success not only kept him going but they also kept his readers intrigued. These fluctuations keep scholars fascinated by his writing and legacy today. Like other great writers, his ups and downs gave him the depth necessary for prolific writing of high quality.

Ironically, Irving survived being quarantined for months aboard ship, and he dodged pandemic in New York. Those situations, it seems, were minor distractions from his writing. And if we can get a bigger picture of our life’s work, I think Irving’s quitting on some things while never giving up on the most important, despite the circumstances, is a lesson everybody can use about now.

I started this blog in August, planning to publish on August 5, but ended up throwing up my hands on blogging for the entire month of August. I’m currently teaching four face-to-face classes of American Literature, and the daily flurry of emails and preparation for the past month have taken precedence over my blogging efforts.

This morning, I came back to the rough draft, and I contemplated quitting on blogging for the remainder of our semester. But, once again, Irving has inspired me to keep going. Perhaps this blog and Irving’s legacy may have the same effect on you today as you read it.

Until my next post on a Washington Irving Wednesday, please stay healthy, and don’t quit on what’s most important.

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Feel free to add to the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, or on this page. Comments are very much welcomed.

If you need a thoughtful reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu.

I try to respond to Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays. If things get hectic and other jobs and responsibilities take precedence over author society business, my email responses might get backlogged, and therefore be delayed by weeks or months. However, I will eventually get around to reading and responding to all messages, most likely on Wednesdays.

Published in: on September 9, 2020 at 5:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Tour of the Pandemic: Irving Dodges Cholera Outbreak, Travels West to Oklahoma Territory

Oneil Myrie photo

–Photo by tyrese myrie from Pexels.

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Last week, I got caught up reading Washington Irving’s journals. It happens from time to time. I was digging for Irving’s thoughts on Columbus and political commentary to tackle conspiracy theories fluttering through Twitter.

Instead of picking up Columbus and political cues, however, notes about cholera in New York caught my attention. Upon returning from Spain, after having been abroad for seventeen years, Irving was touring surrounding areas of New York, and he was dodging disease in the process.

We’re familiar with Elizabeth Bradley’s discussion of Irving being quarantined as a youth in Tarrytown during the 1793 yellow fever outbreak, which may have inspired “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Because of Bradley’s assessment, I kept thinking about how the outbreak of 1832 may have inspired A Tour on the Prairies, published in 1835.

The 1832 cholera outbreak was another episode of disease hysteria during Irving’s lifespan. Flipping through Irving’s journals reminds us how often he and his contemporaries endured such outbreaks. Noting his commentary about cholera makes me want to review his thoughts on disease in A Tour on the Prairies, particularly where he records native illnesses. It’s quite likely that his comments on Native-Americans in that book came from these 1832 scenes from his journals prior to the prairies.

Rather than commenting too much today, I’ll throw out some quotes from Irving’s 1832 journal to let you see what I spied. In future blogs, I may have more to say after I think about these passages in unison with A Tour on the Prairies.

Here we go:

On Saturday, August 4, 1832, Irving writes: “Albany half deserted on a/c of the cholera” (p. 7).

Editor’s note on August 4 journal: “The plague prompted Latrobe to write that during ‘the second week in July, after being witnesses to the panic caused in New York by the outbreak of the cholera, we prepare to follow Mr. Irving to Boston’ (Rambler, I, 42); this same plague was still raging in New York in early August and caused WI’s early departure” (p. 7).

On Saturday, August 18, 1832, Irving writes: “pleasant drive to Oneida—The latter a small village on a pretty creek—fine wooded hills inhabited by the Oneida Indians—find the Count at Oneida (villa) Castle Stroll out with him to Indian village—Indian ill with fever. Gentlemanlike fellow—handsome squaw have picture of GWashtn.—worked mat—Squaw light—slender make [–] small feet & (arm) hands—Soft talk[.] walked up between cornfields to hill commanding a view over the rich plain” (p.16).

In response to Irving’s August 18 journal, “Leave Trenton Falls –1/2 past 7—in post wagon stop at Trenton,” a Twayne editor’s note states: “Whether the decision to change routes was made as a result of news he heard in Trenton or whether he had made the decision earlier is not clear; at any rate, WI decided that the cholera which was rapidly spreading through the northern part of the United States and had reached Utica, New York, imposed too great a threat and he wrote to Peter: ‘I shall leave that place out of my route …though hitherto I have never avoided the malady, nor shall I do so in the course of my tour; simply observing such genteel diet and habits of living as experience has taught me are best calculated to keep my system in healthful tone’ (PMI, III, 32)” (p. 15).

I haven’t done too much with 1832 cholera and the 1835 book, and I’m not sure it’s worthy of much further investigation. However, at the very least, any upcoming lecture I may give involving Tour on the Prairies needs adjustment. In addition to wanting to prove his patriotism after being abroad for seventeen years, Irving’s decision to go on a buffalo hunt out west may have also been prompted by the desire to escape from the cholera epidemic. Irving may have considered set-aside lands for natives in the Oklahoma Territory as an oasis from disease.

Until my next post on a Washington Irving Wednesday, please stay healthy.

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Works Cited, Consulted

Bradley, Elizabeth. “What ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Tells Us about Contagion, Fear and Epidemics.” 30 October 2014, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-legend-sleepy-hollow-tells-us-about-contagion-fear-and-epidemics-180953192/. Accessed 22 July 2020.

Ross, Sue Fields. The Complete Works of Washington Irving, Journals and Notebooks vol. V. Twayne, 1986.

Wilford, John Noble. “How Epidemics Helped Shape the Modern Metropolis.” 15 April 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/science/15chol.html. Accessed 22 July 2020.

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Feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a thoughtful reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays. If things get hectic and other jobs and responsibilities take precedence over author society business, my email responses might get backlogged, and therefore be delayed by weeks or months. However, I will eventually get around to reading and responding to all messages, most likely on Wednesdays.

Published in: on July 22, 2020 at 2:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Headless Horseman Considerations for the Washington Redskins

selective focus close up photo of brown wilson pigskin football on green grass

Photo by Jean-Daniel Francoeur on Pexels.com

 

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Several ideas for blogs have been swirling through my brain, most notably Irving’s connections with Alexander Hamilton and wild theories about Irving’s biography on Christopher Columbus. It never ceases to amaze me how relevant Washington Irving can be.

Despite other writing plans, this morning as I was checking social media, one post struck my fancy. Jazz Funkenstein, with a Twitter descriptor of “Not gonna tweet about the Loch Ness Monster, but he/she is still very on my mind,” writes: “The Redskins should change their name to the Washington Irving’s and have their mascot be a headless horseman. That would be badass.”

Another hessians

On behalf of the Irving Society, I liked and retweeted the post, and didn’t really think too much about the Washington Irvings and a D.C. horseman. That is, until an hour or so later, and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I’m not suggesting that an NFL team take Jazz Funkenstein’s idea to heart, nor do I expect anyone involved in this decision to read my blog, but I would like to highlight a few quirky coincidences for Washington Irving scholars and fans. If Tracy Hoffman owned the Redskins franchise, we’d certainly consider the possibility of the Washington Hessians. Here are some reasons why.

First off, Washington Irving was a diplomat in his later years, serving as Ambassador to Spain, and he spent considerable time in Washington, D.C. Scholars have Irving’s journals with thoughts and notes from his visits. We also know as a young boy, he met George Washington in New York, a reminder that the first capital was in New York, not in the District of Columbia.

And that leads to a second point: Columbia. Too often Washington Irving is solely credited for making Columbus famous in America. The District of Columbia reminds us that America considered Columbus long before Irving wrote his famous biography about him.

Thirdly, according to a city proclamation, Irving, Texas, was named after Washington Irving. And Dallas Cowboys fans know that Irving, Texas, is also the former home of the Dallas Cowboys. That’s an interesting circle to consider. If the Redskins borrowed a mascot associated with the former home of the Dallas Cowboys: well, that would be an interesting twist to their rivalry.

Lastly, we should remember that Irving wrote A Tour on the Prairies about his adventure to the Oklahoma Territory, and he wrote two other western narratives, too. He romanticizes Native-Americans, and we must recognize this, but his empathy for their plight and harsh criticism of American policy toward them should also be noted.

Some scholars think of Irving as our gentleman writer who spent an extraordinary amount of time abroad, and such an assessment is correct. However, upon his return to America in the 1830s, he headed westward and wrote of his experiences there. This was a major shift in his body of writing. You can’t fully understand his life’s work without knowing about his western narratives.

So there you have it: a handful of thoughts for a headless horseman mascot in Washington, D.C. I’ll try to stay posted on this matter and get back with you in the future.

Until my next post on a Washington Irving Wednesday, please stay healthy.

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Feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a thoughtful reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays. If things get hectic, my email responses might get backlogged for awhile, so be patient with me. I eventually get around to reading and responding personally to all messages, most likely on Wednesdays.

 

Published in: on July 8, 2020 at 8:24 pm  Comments (2)  

Washington Irving at the Center of 2020: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Washington_Irving_and_his_Literary_Friends_at_Sunnyside

By Christian Schussele (16 April 1824 – 1879) – Flickr, Photographer: cliff1066, 26 August 2008, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7361478

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

For the past two semesters in my American Literary Cultures classes, I’ve launched the first week of lectures with this famous painting of Irving and other outstanding writers of his day.

In honor of the 200th anniversary of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” I began my course with these two short stories. After Irving, we moved back into the 1600s with writers such as Mary Rowlandson, and we finished with contemporaries like Sandra Cisneros and Toni Morrison.

Over the past several weeks, as I’ve been trying to think of something useful to say on this Washington Irving Society platform, the Sunnyside painting keeps coming to mind. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’ve found this to be true for the Sunnyside painting. What might normally take me fifteen or twenty minutes to set up in a lecture can be said by flashing this one painting, telling students it represents American writers, and asking them: “What’s wrong with this picture?”

They quickly tell me these writers are all white men, and it shakes some of them, I think for the first time, into the reality of the white narrative we’ve all been given. What comes next in the class discussion is the kind of discussion, it seems to me, we need to have in larger contexts. What would a better representation of American writers be, and what would we like it to be? What does America currently look like, and what’s our grand vision for the future?

If I were a skillful painter and if I were an expert on contemporary American literature, my first instinct would be to repaint an updated version of the Sunnyside painting, detailing a female of color at the center, surrounded by a diverse group of American writers currently in vogue. As the recent phenomenon of recreating old family photos has taken hold of us during this pandemic, I have a vision of this painting being recreated with a better representation of America’s current writers.

But after thinking things over, as an expert on Early American Literature and Washington Irving, I’m pretty sure my first instinct is off-base.

Should we instead keep some of these old writers like Irving in our “new painting” and add more diverse writers to the template? On the other hand, instead of reimagining this painting or adding to it, should we delete such scenes from our memory and start afresh?

America has some things to figure out: as we work through the hurtful past and repair current injustices, we also need to think about the future. As I’ve often said, I’m stuck in the past when it comes to scholarship, so brainstorming about the future of American literature and America is tough for me.

I have taken several weeks off from blogging and Washington Irving Wednesdays for a number of reasons: eye strain after an online semester, computer monitor flashing like a disco light, and two lengthy episodes of no Internet service. I was making plans to return in June after a late-May getaway for my birthday. But after May 25, my Irving blogs seemed unimportant. After George Floyd’s tragic death, I decided it would be better for me to listen for awhile, rather than jump into a conversation about Washington Irving. I also recognize that my fatigued mindset pales in comparison to the hurt many Americans are experiencing today. 

At our last Washington Irving Society panels in 2019 at the American Literature Association conference in Boston, we heard from scholars who brought compelling and thoughtful commentary about race in Irving’s writing. If you are such a scholar, and would like to use this space to discuss your research, please let me know. We would be happy to open up this forum to more guest bloggers. 

After checking on our Twitter feed, I noted several tweets about Washington Irving’s treatment of Columbus. Every year on Columbus Day, I have opportunity to address the misinformation spread about Irving, and I attempted to address comments made recently.

All of my exchanges were productive. Along with pointing out errors, I also thanked people for their consideration of research in light of current debates and let them know we weren’t trying to defend Columbus, but only directing people to Irving’s texts for further insight. If such discussions continue, we might want to address that topic, too, in some blogs. If you’ve been researching Irving and Columbus and would like to share in a blog or post, please let me know and feel free to add to the conversation on social media.

Until another Washington Irving Wednesday, please take care of yourselves and stay healthy.

According to Wikipedia, here’s the key to the painting of “Washington Irving and his friends at Sunnyside,” from left to right. I bulleted them for your easy perusal. Wikipedia gave them in paragraph form:

  • Henry T. Tuckerman (1813-1871)
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
  • William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870)
  • Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
  • Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867)
  • William H. Prescott (1796-1859)
  • Washington Irving
  • James Kirke Paulding (1778-1860)
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
  • William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)
  • John Pendleton Kennedy (1795-1870)
  • James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)
  • George Bancroft (1800-1891)

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Feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays. If things get hectic, my email responses might be a few weeks in the future, but I will eventually get around to reading and responding.

Published in: on June 25, 2020 at 12:47 pm  Comments (2)  

Clicking with Irving: Future Digital Archives Keep Me Moving

pink mouse by pixel

–Photo by pexels.com

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

During these past few months of quarantine, resources readily available to us online have become increasingly important. One of the reasons why I study Washington Irving–one reason I stay motivated–is the lack of high quality digital resources.

Author society work is important because we need better digital resources for Washington Irving in the future.

Oh, how I wish I’d put together some excellent electronic scholarly editions of Irving’s work! During this pandemic, I realize how valuable quality texts, readily available online, are to us all.

Washington Irving Society members have talked about a good Irving anthology, and we’ve even had panels, and I’ve given papers, on “Irving and the Archives,” yet here we are years later without much accomplished in this area.

Several years ago, I had undergraduate English majors working on electronic scholarly editions for the texts they were studying. I stopped doing the assignment because one too many students said they preferred a basic academic literary analysis. They thought it would be more useful to their future success.

The thoughts of recent grads, some who now teach, may have changed over the past few months, if their perspective hadn’t already shifted when they entered the work force. What my students this semester would have given for thoughtful critical editions produced by Baylor Bears who came before them!

It has been suggested to me several times that the Washington Irving website be a digital hub for Washington Irving research. We should provide digitized texts of his writing and scholarly electronic publications about his writing.

Agreed!

Any volunteers?

I’m teasing you. Well, sort of. I’ll start small today. I’m creating a link on this website called Digital Irving. May this link flourish into something meaningful as we realize the importance of an online presence for Washington Irving.

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CB picture 2019

Until next week, stay healthy! And please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also try to update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays. When the semester gets crazy, my responses might be pushed into the future, but I’ll probably respond on some Wednesday nevertheless.

Published in: on May 6, 2020 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Corona Babies, Emerging Irving Scholars: Potential Outcomes from 2020

photo of girl sitting on sofa while using tablet

–Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

We joke about a baby boom after couples “shelter in place,” but I’m wondering who else might emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Might we have a scholarly boom?

Is it possible that ten or twenty years from now, Washington Irving scholars extraordinaire will credit this time period for changing the trajectory of their lives?

This thought may seem a little out there, but it’s not that far-fetched. Turning points in my life can’t be attributed to pandemic, but they were often times of “quarantine.”

I’m stir crazy about right now, and I’ll readily admit that. But I usually view being alone to write and study and research as a treat rather than a punishment. So how did I get this way?

Though the answer is more complicated than I’m about to present, let me throw out two incidences which formed my bookish ways.

First off, in sixth grade, my parents moved me out of private school and into public school. I was so far ahead that my teacher often sent me to the library. She gave me projects to complete after I finished my normal daily work. I spent many hours in the library and learned to appreciate my quiet time there. I can still recall unrolling a gigantic, yellow scroll, jam-packed with my drawings and fun facts found in the library, during our unit about ancient civilizations.

Secondly, after graduating from college, while on the job market, I had so much time on my hands that I started reading “great books” because I finally had time to read them. I can still remember crying through David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Having that extra time to read and enjoy the reading—well, it did something to me.

In the past few weeks, I’m noticing a shift in my students. English majors and non-English majors alike are valuing the literature in ways I never expected. Having the extra time to actually do the reading and enjoy it, rather than skimming through, is unprecedented. They’re typically juggling very busy spring schedules with reading for my class.

I’m not saying that all business majors will switch to English Literature, nor am I saying all pre-med students will now minor in creative writing. But I do think students, of all ages, will emerge from 2020 with a new sense of who they are and what they value. And some may learn, for the first time, the joy of contemplation, thinking, researching, reading, and writing.

We could easily have more academics on our hands in the future, and let’s hope some of them find purpose in Washington Irving studies.

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Until next week, stay healthy! And please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to all Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also do my best to update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays.

Published in: on April 22, 2020 at 1:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Mona Lisa in a Selfie World: Rebooting Our Appreciation for Washington Irving, Leonardo DaVinci, the Arts

mona lisa with face mask

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

This morning, I’m thinking about places I traveled in 2019 and into 2020 before we were grounded: Paris, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Houston. I even made my annual Texas trips to Galveston and Palo Duro Canyon. And I’m thankful for getting away when I did.

One thing that struck me at the Louvre was how visiting the Mona Lisa has changed. I’ve visited previously, even rushed groups of students through the exhibits, but the last time I went, we took digital cameras. The iphone had not yet arrived.

What saddened me in May 2019 was the whole Mona Lisa experience. The museum was packed, but the Louvre is always packed during high season. I kept telling people in my tour group that Mona Lisa would be worth the wait:

“She’s worth all the fuss,” I told them. “Her eyes still follow you behind the bullet-proof glass.”

But after seeing the Mona Lisa spectacle, I had to apologize to my friends for leading them astray. They were disappointed, and so was I.

People were not mesmerized by Mona Lisa’s eyes. Instead, they were fixated on getting the perfect selfie. Their backs were to her. I was shocked. Shocked, I say!

Mona Lisa was different. The lighting was bad, and I couldn’t get near her. I couldn’t stand and stare and see if her eyes would follow me. A sea of selfie crazies blocked my entire view of the painting.

I didn’t take a Mona Lisa selfie. In fact, I didn’t take any pictures of the scene. I didn’t want to remember it, but this experience has stayed with me. All I can see in my mind’s eye are the hundreds of self-absorbed people in front of me.

Months after the Paris trip, when I visited Washington Irving’s Sunnyside home in October, I was happy that we were told “no pictures” inside the house. Visitors focused on what we saw, rather than on getting perfect selfies. And maybe, since the Louvre is under construction and times are different, some adjustments might be made as to how the art is viewed.

I want a line for the Mona Lisa–like lines we now have at grocery stores. I want everybody spaced at least six feet apart. I want only a certain amount of people allowed to enter her space. I want early morning hours, perhaps for those who don’t need selfies. Maybe I’m asking too much.

Yes, I’m guilty of taking selfies, too. We all are. (Well, everybody except my parents and a handful of others who still have flip phones.) I’ve even taken selfies in front of other art work, even though I didn’t throw in the towel at the Mona Lisa. The world has changed. We can’t go back to “the good ‘ole days” before iphones.

But I do hope we figure out a few things while we’re home alone. As people talk about how we’ll never take classrooms and restaurants and gyms and churches and birthday parties and shopping malls and friends and family and more for granted, I hope we also reconsider our ways with the arts.

May we reboot our appreciation for what’s important, including our favorite paintings such as the Mona Lisa and our favorite writers such as Washington Irving. The cliché can still happen: we can have clearer vision in 2020 if we’ll refocus our attention.

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Until next week, stay healthy! And please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to all Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays.

07-24-18 Cell Phone 521

Here I am at The Modern art museum in Fort Worth, Texas, getting my selfie with some Takashi Murakami art work. –Photo by Tracy Hoffman

Published in: on April 8, 2020 at 3:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Happy Birthday, Washington Irving!

Cake from Spring 2019

Washington Irving birthday cake served in Dr. Hoffman’s 2019 classes. –Photo by Tracy Hoffman

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Published in: on April 3, 2020 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  

“Toast and Post” Celebration Scheduled for Washington Irving’s Birthday

If you’re interested in celebrating Washington Irving’s birthday tomorrow (Friday, April 3, 2020), several people will be posting pictures of their toasts to him. The event is sponsored by the Irving’s Heritage Society, the historical society in Irving, Texas.

The Heritage Society is asking folks to “Toast the 237th Birthday of Washington Irving” at 5 p.m. and post a picture on your Facebook page or on the Irving Heritage Society’s Facebook page. Here’s the link:

https://www.facebook.com/170447793061890/photos/a.170463193060350/2540037796102866/?type=3&theater

Tracy Hoffman, the president of the Washington Irving Society, was scheduled to make a big toast to Washington Irving in New York this Saturday night. After the Saturday symposium and the closing dinner, they were to have birthday cake and a toast. The event was canceled because of COVID-19.

Published in: on April 2, 2020 at 7:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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