Teaching Irving on Nine Eleven

BY TRACY HOFFMAN

September 11, 2018

Today, September 11, happens to be the one day per semester when I unload the full Washington Irving.

This afternoon, I’ll be teaching sophomore-level, American Literature. My youngest students were born in 1999. They don’t remember 9/11. For those of us who were adults in 2001, that’s tough to fathom.

Before I share my Irving stories, I first tell my students they will be given a very detailed review sheet for the test. I want them to listen and play along with my “day of fun.” The discussion could go anywhere, so I want them to relax and not worry about note taking.

Secondly, I encourage the audience to stop me at any point. This is the one day I let loose, but I’m happy to chat about anything they find entertaining. So long as we talk about Irving and they’re happy, I’m good.

In years past on the big Irving day, students have stopped to ask more about the Mary Shelley connection.

I’ve had students in class from Irving, Texas, who want to talk about their city.

Students who have recently studied abroad in Spain often want to spend more time on the Alhambra.

They love comparing the Kaplan daguerreotypes with the Brady one. We’ve spent quality time comparing wrinkles, ears, and eyebrows.

After talking about Matilda, we’ve laughed about giving a locket of hair to your beloved–since they couldn’t send selfies back in 1808.

If I’ve assigned the Christmas sketches, they sometimes ask me about Charles Dickens. We often wander into chats about Yosemite’s Bracebridge dinner.

I have a handout called “Irving and the Arabesque.” I’ve used it before when Irving Day lands on the week of 9/11, and students ask me more about Irving’s ties to Islam. The handout provides a chronology of Irving’s writing alongside the life of Muhammad and American altercations with Muslim countries. I wonder if students in Fall 2018 want an Arabesque discussion. We shall see.

September 11 calls us to remembrance. In essence, Washington Irving’s work calls for the same. He wants us to remember the past, to recall “the good old days.”

As a Romantic and Gothic, Irving reminds me to see both the heroic beauty of America’s past as well as the downright ugliness. However, as an unassuming diplomat and peacemaker, Irving also nudges me to use the knowledge of America’s past to encourage healing and reconciliation.

We must remember the good and bad. Let’s pray the wise ones among us, Americanists in particular, will organize the past in such a way to bring positive change, not divisiveness. If all goes well, I’ll deliver the package of Washington Irving today, in a well-organized, meaningful way.

Published in: on September 11, 2018 at 4:48 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Class today went well. Students were most interested in Mary Shelley, the Kaplan photos, Bracebridge dinners, and how many books Irving wrote.


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