In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Literature of “British America”
  • Ralph Bauer (bio)
Empire of Letters: Letter Manuals and Transatlantic Correspondence, 1688– 1820, Eve Tavor Bannet. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Folded Selves: Colonial New England Writing in the World System, Michelle Burnham. University Press of New England, 2007.
Saints and Strangers: New England in British North America, Joseph Conforti. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.
Creole America: The West Indies and the Formation of Literature and Culture in the New Republic, Sean X Goudie. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
Cultures and Identities in Colonial British America, Robert Olwell and Alan Tully. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
Colonial Writing and the New World, 1583–1671: Allegories of Desire, Thomas Scanlan. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
A New World: England’s First View of America, Kim Sloan. University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
The Importance of Feeling English: American Literature and the British Diaspora, 1750–1850, Leonard Tennenhouse. Princeton University Press, 2007.

A decade and a half ago or so, William Spengemann inaugurated in these pages what has often since been called a sort of “revolution” in early American literary studies, as early Americanists have declared their independence from the bonds of (American) national literary history, and particularly from what has been called a “proto-nationalist” approach that would be beholden to explain how the literature of the thirteen colonies were the “origins” of American national literary history. One of the consequences of this declaration of independence has been that early American literature has once again become British—at least in the work of some early Americanists, who, inspired by social and political historians of early America, have begun to recontextualize colonial American writings within the literature of the British Empire. They hereby have been increasingly mindful of scholarship in early modern and eighteenth-century studies, while their colleagues in these fields, inspired by the postcolonial studies movement that swept through the humanities during the 1990s and early 2000s, have increasingly been interested in colonial writing. This critical turn among early Americanists should not be confused for a variant of the more recent trend toward “transnationalism” in American studies; rather, by shifting the context from “American” to “British,” the British Americanists have reinforced the notion of the nation as the organizing principle of literary studies. In fact, one of the recurring themes running through the books under consideration here is the notion that the colonial experience from the late sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries was crucial in the formation not primarily of an American but rather of an English (or British) national identity and literature. Hence, these accounts of early America have placed renewed emphasis on the defining role played by the vernacular (English) [End Page 818] in literary formations as well as the transatlantic networks of literary exchange and genres that connected speakers of English (letters, novels, etc.); they have substituted one nationalist trope (“exodus”) for another (“diaspora”); and they have shifted the focus from what was “exceptional” about early American culture, especially New English religious culture, to what was typical of British imperial history, such as mercantile capitalist economic development.

Significantly, one of the most foundational documents in the history of the English colonial experience in the New World was not a literary “text” in the conventional sense of the word but rather a set of images: John White’s drawings and watercolors of Martin Frobisher’s voyages to the American arctic in the 1570s and of one of the earliest attempts to establish an English colony in an expedition to “Virginia” (now in North Carolina) under a patent granted to Sir Walter Raleigh and under the leadership of Sir Richard Grenville in 1585. However, White’s foundational images shaped the English imagination about the New World only indirectly, mediated as they were by the Flemish engraver and printer Theodor de Bry, who obtained a set of White’s watercolors while in London from Richard Hakluyt and adapted them in the engravings that lavishly illustrated his immensely popular multivolume collection of voyages entitled America. While de Bry’s volumes flourished in multiple editions published in Latin, German, French, and English, the corpus of White’s watercolors about the New World was dispersed in various directions, many...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-4365
Print ISSN
0896-7148
Pages
pp. 818-835
Launched on MUSE
2009-11-25
Open Access
No
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