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Representing Pocahontas

English 3960: Senior Seminar
Spring Semester 2009
Professor Edward M. Griffin

The historical record contains not a single word that we can certainly attribute to Pocahontas herself. Yet she may be the most persistently represented figure in the history of British America and the United States. The number of items on the most recent bibliography of works about her has now reached 1,900. She shows up in every kind of representational form, from genealogies to histories to paintings to big-budget motion pictures, and she has been showing up there for four hundred years. Europeans began writing about her nearly a decade before Shakespeare's death, and there's no sign of a slowdown in the "cultural industry" (Edward Gallagher's term) that has made hers the most familiar American Indian name in world history and possibly the most misrepresented as well as the most represented of our cultural icons. Why? What has made her so compelling to scholars and artists alike? This seminar, aided by the marvelous electronic "Pocahontas Archive" compiled by Professor Gallagher and his students at Lehigh University, will find its chief focus in Pocahontas as late twentieth- and early twenty-first century literature and art represent her, but we cannot escape tracing those recent representations back to certain types that got started early and continue to appeal to the imaginations of non-Americans as well as Americans. The readings, discussions, and assignments in the seminar will be wide-ranging. They will require you to explore the border territories among history, art, mythology, science, and sheer nonsense. Each student will take responsibility during the semester for a thoroughgoing investigation of one or more of the artistic representations of Pocahontas, and that investigation will fulfill the senior thesis requirement.

Course Syllabus (PDF)

Course Essays

Sierra Burris
The Role of Pocahontas during the Debate over Early Nineteenth-Century Indian Removal Policies
Devin Day
The Naked Child Continues Her Somersaults: William T. Vollman's Representations of Pocahontas as Myth in Argall
Michael King
When Fiction Wins: John Davis and the Emergence of a Romantic Pocahontas
Jack Nilles
Telling Truth or Telling Lies: An Examination of the Impact of Robert Dale Owen on the Pocahontas Myth
Jessica Powers
Representations of Pocahontas in Hanay Geiogamah's Foghorn
Joe Reutiman
The Forgotten Kidnapping: The Transformation of the Pocahontas Captivity Story
Carly Scheer
Paula Gunn Allen's "Sendings" from Pocahontas: Engaging with an Unusual Reality
Genevieve Wachutka
Myth Making: Appropriation of Pocahontas in Hart Crane's The Bridge
Crystal Williams
Old Stories, New Secrets, and the Birth of History's Artistic License: Malick's The New World