FSEM1020-01.FSEM writing intensv: Myth.F16.Bjork,Katharine

Faculty Name

Katharine Bjork

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Course Title

FSEM writing intensv: Myth

Academic Term and Year

Fall 2016



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Course Description

Hernán Cortés as Quetzalcóatl; Captain James Cook as Lono: the history of European colonial expansion is full of accounts of white outsiders being welcomed and even worshiped as deities by the native people they sought to conquer. But did the Aztecs and the Hawaiians really regard these foreigners as gods or natural rulers? If not, why do such stories still hold so much power? (The myth of Cortés apotheosis can still be found in many contemporary textbooks, encyclopedias, etc., as supposed explanation for the relative ease with which a small force of Spaniards were able to overthrow the powerful Aztec empire in 1521.) Drawing on the critical work of anthropologist Gananath Obeysekere who argues that the myth of the stranger king is the product of European myth-making and not a reflection of the beliefs of the peoples they encountered during the age of European colonial expansion (1500-1850), this seminar will look at a variety of sources that reflect the European myth of the stranger king, from classic fairy tales to contemporary literature and film. We will also turn a critical eye on storytelling itself, paying attention to the ways in which narratives serve the universal human desire to create and share meaning about the world we live in and the experiences we have—as individuals, members of families, communities, nations, etc. Some of these stories we call myths; others history. In this seminar we will read and discuss some stories generated by the experience of cross-cultural contact in the context of European colonial expansion. We will probe the differences between ‘myth’ and ‘history’ as two ways of conveying different kinds of meaning. Because this is a writing-intensive First-Year Seminar, you do not need to register for English 1110.

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