Getting background

I think Sara, Meredith and Jack did a great job of breaking down the Foucault reading in the wiki. It was a difficult work, but I think going through that process will serve them well when it comes to contextualizing the works we discuss through the rest of the semester.

One of the things we talked about was the value of doing a little background research. All these stories come from a certain time and place, and they say something about that time and place on multiple levels. Taken on its own, the Levi Ames story tells of a petty thief who was executed. Williams’ source notes and introduction in Pillars of Salt give it more context, so ultimately the story around Ames’ story is more fascinating than the work itself, as it goes into the concerns of the colonists as they started to move towards the Revolution. Williams wrote of “the anxieties of those who feared a redistribution of wealth” (p. 23), and the fact that nineteen versions of Ames’ story were published and sold says something about those anxieties. But Williams isn’t going to give us context for everything we’ll be reading, so we’ll need to work on strategies to pick up the slack.

As I was thinking about this this morning, it occurred to me that Foucault comes from a certain time and place as well. Stanford has an Encyclopedia of Philosophy online. Born in France in 1926, he would have spent his late teens living under Nazi occupation. Might that have had an effect on how he thought about power and social control? The article doesn’t say anything about that. It does have a section on Discipline and Punish, which might be worth a look.

So we could ask some questions about the readings: What was going on in America at that time? What else can we find out about the story? What can we find out about who wrote it, and why? Making those connections will deepen our understanding and appreciation of crime, murder and grisly death the course. While exploring those questions make be as simple as a Google search, it would be worthwhile to look into the resources available through the UMW library. Go talk to Peter Catlin. He’s a good guy and he can point you in the right direction.umwlib

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