Just Teach One

Just Teach One: Early African American Print

Mrs. Harper

“Mrs. Francis E. W. Harper,” portrait from page 748 in The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters… printed by Porter & Coates (Philadelphia, 1872). Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.

The recovery of African American literature—and so of a full sense of American literature—is far from over. But while teachers and scholars have a richer range of anthologies, editions, and other resources than ever before, changing an academic landscape reified by decades of neglect, dismissal, and other forms of racism large and small will continue to take thoughtful and concerted efforts and significant new learning by all involved.

This is perhaps especially true in terms of pre-twentieth century African American literature, a subject area that was first dismissed by the academy out of hand and then pigeon-holed as a small field limited to specific genres (e.g., the slave narrative) or rare, exceptional figures (e.g., Frederick Douglass). Scholars continue to rediscover new and fascinating texts, authors, and communities—in part by looking at venues like the Black press and the Colored Convention movement often unknown to or ignored by earlier literary historians. One of today’s challenges is to create points of access to these rediscoveries that appropriately frame and present these critical pieces of African American (and so American) literature and culture and that allow individuals to work in responsible, well-informed, dialogic ways to benefit teaching, learning, and further scholarship.

Loosely spinning off from the innovative early American Just Teach One initiative founded by Duncan Faherty and Ed White and generously supported by the American Antiquarian Society, we are pleased to announce the creation of Just Teach One: Early African American Print. In order to advance the kinds of recovery work described above we encourage folks to take the next step in rethinking the American literary and cultural landscape by agreeing to “just teach one” lesser-known early African American text.

As in the initial JTO initiative, the focus will be on short texts or collection of texts (usually fewer than 30 pages) that could be taught in one course meeting. In thinking through questions raised by both African American history generally and African American engagement with print culture specifically, we have set our definition of “early” capaciously and so intend to treat texts published up to the end of Reconstruction.

In addition to presenting an easily accessible, high-quality digital copy of the primary text, the JTO: EAAP project will pair contextual information and other apparatus to aid individuals in meeting the challenge of incorporating new curricular materials and so will facilitate manageable integration into existing courses. The site will also provide space for participants in the project to post material tied to their teaching, learning, and scholarship, and in so doing provide the foundation for a dynamic community of dialogue surrounding the shared texts. We also hope to partner with other digital humanities projects as well as efforts by libraries, archives, and classroom teachers focused on hands-on archival research in the field.

We invite folks to join this project through working with our inaugural text, a new edition of “Theresa; a Haytien Tale” (1827). Please email us for more information about JTO: EAAP or to sign up to teach this or one of our forthcoming texts.

Just Teach One: Early African American Print Conveners

Nicole Aljoe, Northeastern University (
Lois Brown, Wesleyan University (
John Ernest, University of Delaware (
Gabrielle Foreman, University of Delaware (
Eric Gardner, Saginaw Valley State University (
Joycelyn Moody, University of Texas-San Antonio (


  1. Who do we email if we plan to teach this text in the coming semester? I would be more than happy to write up a reflection and/or share an assignment related to *Theresa* if you are still interested in that.

    Comment by Nick Miller — June 23, 2015 @ 11:51 pm

  2. Feel free to email Eric Gardner, gardner(at)

    Comment by Eric Gardner — October 25, 2015 @ 7:34 pm

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