Whether he’s teaching a survey of American postmodernism, a course on Southern Gothic fiction or a seminar on Native American literature, Billy J. Stratton, an associate professor of English, encourages students to get face-to-face with the text. Not a digitized epub or PDF, but a typeset book nestled between two covers.
“I stress the importance of the physical book,” he says. That’s because the physical book has stories of its own to tell.
With those revelations in mind, Stratton has been working with DU’s University Libraries to acquire a collection of early American and Western frontier captivity narratives. Many of these accounts, typically crafted by settlers captured in battle by Native peoples, were popular on both sides of the Atlantic. They were read not just for their what-happened-next allure, but for their depictions of a culture deemed savage and alien.
“These are extremely important books in American literary history,” Stratton says, adding that they have done much to shape the public’s image of Native peoples to this day.
Now several narratives strong, the DU collection kicked off with what Stratton considers a bibliophile’s coup: the purchase of a choice 1773 edition of what has been considered America’s first bestseller: Mary Rowlandson’s “The Soveraignty [sic] and Goodness of God,” first published in 1682. The wife of a Puritan minister, Rowlandson described her 11-week captivity at the hands of a Native raiding party during the three-year conflict known as King Philip’s War. Notably, her tale does not chronicle any abuse at the hands of her captors, but it does detail her revulsion for their way of life.
The edition now in DU’s special collections is especially significant, Stratton…