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Starr Center for the


Study of the American Experience

Captivity in the Classroom: Overselling Mary Rowlandson’s Seventeenth-Century Account of Indian Captivity to Unsuspecting Twenty-First Century Undergraduates


Date: 4:30pm EDT March 21

A talk with Professor Richard De Prospo

“As soon as I had an opportunity, I took my Bible to read, and that quieting scripture came to my hand, Psal. 46:10, ‘Be still and know that I am God,’ which stilled my spirit for the present.” Mary Rowlandson

An article in the May 2005 PMLA begins by noting that “while the canon of Anglo-American colonial literature is in an exciting state of flux, several once neglected texts now appear fixed in the recent flourishing anthologies,” “the most spectacular example” of which being “Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative.”

So how, then, mindful of this very recent and very representative judgment, is the most famous, the most studied, the most admired, the most reprinted, the most anthologized, and one of the earliest of all the accounts of Indian captivity written by a European colonist in the British Colonies of North America properly to be called? Is it really a narrative at all?

Richard De Prospo is professor of English and American Studies at Washington College. His books include The Latest Early American Literature (2015), The Stowe Debate, Rhetorical Strategies in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with Mason Lowance and Ellen Westbrook (1994), and Theism in the Discourse of Jonathan Edwards (1985).