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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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2. Exploring Borders   

2. Exploring

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities
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Activities: Author Activities

Adriaen Van der Donck - Teaching Tips

Back Back to Adriaen Van der Donck Activities
  • Ask your students to pay attention to the way Van der Donck uses the discourse of the "sublime" (see Unit 4) to describe the landscape and natural productions of the Dutch colony. His descriptions of the beached whales, the power of the Great Falls on the Mohawk River, and the "grand and sublime" spectacle of bush burning all work to convey a sense of awesome natural power to the reader. Strikingly, Van der Donck's invocations of the sublime often end on a warning note: the beached whales die and infect the river; the waterfall leads to the destruction of an Indian family traveling by canoe; and the bush fires destroy gardens and homes. Ask students to think about what kind of relationship Van der Donck's narrative constructs between humans and the natural world. Why does he consistently offer ominous hints of danger? How might his narrative of the sublime complicate his book's efforts to serve as a promotional tract encouraging settlement?

  • Have your students compile a list of the anecdotes Van der Donck uses in the course of his description of New Netherland. (You might need to explain that an anecdote is a short account of a specific, often unusual or humorous, occurrence. It offers more personal, subjective insights than general descriptions of nature, geography, or communities.) After your students have charted Van der Donck's anecdotes, ask them to think about when and why he decides to rely on a specific story to supplement his narrative description. What kind of authority do anecdotes bring to his narrative? What issues and topics seem to demand the relation of specific stories? Do the anecdotes support or challenge Van der Donck's general claims about life in New Netherland?

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