Educating secondary students using postcolonial literature requires a commitment from both the teacher and the students. When we make the decision to include postcolonial literature in our curriculum, we are shouldering the responsibility of teaching our students to be compassionate and tolerant. We are teaching them histories that may sometimes be very painful both for the characters in the story and for the reader. We much teach our students to be critical thinkers and active readers. Teaching postcolonial literature requires a commitment far beyond plot, character, and setting. It requires a commitment to tell the stories of real people often under extreme circumstances, and we must convey this realness to our students.

As teachers we must also help our students deal with the knowledge we help them to obtain. Many students of postcolonial literature find themselves suffering from "white guilt". We must be prepared to discuss this feeling and others that may arise. We need to help them answer the question "so what do I do now that I know all this?".

Teaching postcolonial literature can be one of the most rewarding things we do as teachers, but if we don't take seriously our commitment to represent those who lived under colonial rule, we do a great disservice to our students, ourselves, and our global community.


Theories of Teaching Post Colonial Literature

Teaching History Through the Use of Literature

History was one of my least favorite subjects during my high school years. I had boring history teachers who either stood and lectured while I tried to take take notes and act like I cared, or teachers who assigned the text book as homework and left us on our own to decide what important fact might show up on the test. It wasn't until I returned to college at the age of 39 that I finally realized that history was much more than lists of dates and the names of war heroes.

I took an introduction to anthropology class in which we were required to read City of Joy by Dominique LaPierre. The class itself, being an anthropology class, focused on the lives of real people living during different periods of time. The book is about the poor people living in Calcutta during the 1960s. At the same time we were reading this book I was taking a self-instructed American history class. Suddenly, in the midst of my learning I had an epiphany--while the United States was dealing with the effects of the Vietnam War, there were people in other countries living their lives, facing their own crises, and making their own history.

I know, it doesn't say much for my understanding of other cultures at the time but that is exactly my point. If a 39 year old, relatively well-educated woman doesn't understand that history is really about the lives of real people living real lives, then how can we expect our students to take an interest in history and as a result take an interest in their global community? I believe that by teaching our students that history is more than just dates and war generals we can engage them in learning. When they can put actual names and lives with the events that are happening, history becomes real to them. The way to do this is by using literature to teach history.

Let's use a familiar example. Most schools teach The Diary of Anne Frank sometime around 8th grade. I have heard story after story from English teachers who have used the opportunity to spend sometimes weeks learning about the Holocaust. The students are engaged in their learning. They have a real person to relate to. Why can't history teachers learn from the success that these English teachers have had? Why aren't we using more historical novels or short stories in our teaching?

Anne Frank is, of course, a ideal example because the students are able to read the actual thoughts and feelings of a person who actually lived during a great historical event. But why can't we use fictional characters to serve the same purpose. For instance, Miriam Bat-Ami's Two Suns in the Sky is about an American Catholic girl who falls in love with a Jewish refugee from Yugoslavia during W.W.II. This story, although fictional, is based on actual places and events. The readers of Two Suns in the Sky get to know Chris and Adam as real teens with real desires and problems. Fictional characters do not equal fictional circumstances. Once students feel that they can relate to the character, they will be more receptive to the historical events that surround those character's lives. Our students will gain empathy for the people who suffered, loved, struggled, feared, excelled, survived, and died throughout history.

As our students learn to care about the lives of people living in other cultures in the past, they will also gain a desire to understand more about people in other cultures living in the present. When our students learn to see beyond the ethnocentric boundaries they are comfortable with, they will begin to experience a new global awareness.


Slavery: On-line Texts

American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology: This site includes firsthand accounts of slavery in America. Also included are photographs taken at the time of the interviews.

Excerpts from Slave Narratives: This site, edited by Steven Mintz, includes 46 excerpts from some of our most memorable slave narratives.

North American Slave Narratives, Beginnings to 1920: This site, maintained by the University of North Carolina, provides an introduction to the slave narrative as well as a collection of electronic texts.

Slave Narratives:'s links to online slave narratives.


Historical Text Archive: Includes a link to many teaching ideas about history and its related topics.

Slavery in America: Zap-me! has an excellent resource for teachers covering all aspects of American history.


Primary Sources on Postcolonialism

These sources are all from the book Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History by Kathleen W. Craver. I have condensed her list of sites to those that relate to colonization but I would highly recommend that all history and literature teachers buy a copy of the book. It's resources are priceless. There are similar books for teaching Geography and World Languages.

History of Slavery--Timeline

Timeline of African American history, 1852-1880

American Slavery and Sectionalism Timeline

Timeline: The United States

Toward Racial Equality, Slavery Timeline

Timelines of African History


LaPierre, Dominique. The City of Joy. Warner Books: New York, 1985.

Bat-Ami, Miriam. Two Suns in the Sky. Cricket Books, 1999.

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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Page Created by: Vicki L. Whisler

Last Updated: June 4, 2001