This rich panel offered both pedagogical theory and practical applications. To start the panel, Craig Howes retraced the emergence of scholarship on teaching life writing in the late 1990s and its evolution since. He took the opportunity to look back on Teaching Life Writing Texts (MLA 2007). As the title suggests, the focus has been on the text, or the materials we assign for reading. What is missing? Equal attention to the products (writings of our students) and the “scenes of instruction.” Maria Rita Drumond Viana, however, showed us that life-writing texts continue to be off the radar of many in academia (namely undergraduate students) including in her country, Brazil. She noted that few of her students had read the genre before her course. Viana is addressing this issue by “sneaking in” life writing texts in some courses and by teaching an elective course with a module on writers’ letters. Eric D. Lamore’s presentation also focused on the text, but went beyond the “official version.” Lamore offered us ideas of how a single life-writing text can be multiple, and how teaching its remediated versions can enrich our students’ understanding. Centering writer and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography, he introduces his students to the value of unauthorized editions. He further shared how we might bring online archives into our classrooms. He gives his students the opportunity to struggle with cursive writing as—we have ourselves as researchers—as they explore archives of New York African Free Schools.
Lamore’s use of digital archives in the classroom prompted a Q&A discussion on the affordances of digitization in teaching. Panelists responded that open-access online archives provide education opportunities when cost of physical books would otherwise prevent them. Yet, online does not necessarily mean open to all. Howes stated that it’s our responsibility to find ways to provide free materials, and to guide students who—even with access—might not “know what they’re looking at.”