AWS Colloquium 2020 – presentation proposal

Proposal title: To preserve and make accessible the human record: the archivist as storyteller and facilitator in the pedagogical ecology of August Wilson’s American Century Cycle

Whether one goes to a bookstore or a theater to “buy” a particular August Wilson play, one is not merely purchasing entertainment for the evening in the traditional sense of going to a movie or a play or taking part in a temporal event. My experience of leading discussions of the American Century Cycle plays with adult learners, one by one, over several sessions, has convinced me that each play in the Cycle, and all the plays in the aggregate, represents a collection of human records. These records exist in a continuous and dramatic form as encoded documents that tell us the history of a people at critical junctures in their development. But the plays also  present us with a learning system for understanding human existence, theirs and ours, on the page, on the stage and screen, and in our lives. Exposure to this encoded learning system, whether consciously or unconsciously, I propose, may account in part for the continued popularity of August Wilson’s American Century Cycle plays.

In this paper, I will analyze these learning system features, this pedagogical ecology as set forth in one play as an example, defining terms along the way. I will include in the discussion the syllabus of learning aids we developed in our discussions that smoothed the bumps in the learning process, obstacles I would like to imagine the playwright intentionally placed to aid the student, the reader or the playgoer in achieving the mastery he intended for us to achieve. In our study groups we discuss the Cycle as a voyage, a journey, and an initiation into a mystic order. In this paper we begin the process of unmasking the process, revealing the aspects of the Cycle’s inherent learning system so that it becomes universally accessible and applicable.