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Eclipse of Empires

World History in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture

Patricia Jane Roylance

Publication Year: 2013

Eclipse of Empires analyzes the nineteenth-century American fascination with what Patricia Jane Roylance calls “narratives of imperial eclipse,” texts that depict the surpassing of one great civilization by another.

Patricia Jane Roylance’s central claim in Eclipse of Empires is that historical episodes of imperial eclipse, for example Incan Peru yielding to Spain or the Ojibway to the French, heightened the concerns of many American writers about specific intranational social problems plaguing the nation at the time—race, class, gender, religion, economics. Given the eventual dissolution of great civilizations previously plagued by these very same problems, many writers, unlike those who confidently emphasized U.S. exceptionalism, exhibited both an anxiety about the stability of American society and a consistent practice of self-scrutiny in identifying the national defects that they felt could precipitate America’s decline.

Roylance studies, among other texts, James Fenimore Cooper’s The Water-Witch (1830) and The Bravo (1831), which address the eclipse of Venice by New York City as a maritime power in the eighteenth century; William Hickling Prescott’s Conquest of Peru (1847), which responds to widespread anxiety about communist and abolitionist threats to the U.S. system of personal property by depicting Incan culture as a protocommunist society doomed to failure; and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha (1855), which resists the total eclipse of Ojibwa culture by incorporating Ojibway terms and stories into his poem and by depicting the land as permanently marked by their occupation.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-x

inancial support for this project has been provided by the Stanford Humanities Center Theodore H. and Frances K. Geballe Dissertation Fellowship; the Stanford University English Department Tomas Killefer Dissertation Fellowship; the Friends of the Longfellow House Stanley Paterson Fellowship; and the American...

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pp. 1-19

People in the United States must understand world history. So argues Emma Willard, nineteenth-century U.S. writer and educator, in her 1857 world history textbook, Universal History in Perspective: “Universal history, as a science, is . . . at this moment, particularly important to the citizens of our republic.” According...

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Chapter 1 - American Principles and Italian Things: Cooper’s Political Gleanings in Italy

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pp. 20-44

James Fenimore Cooper provides a useful place to begin, because in his representations of early modern Italian history, he explicitly discusses where the United States fits into the historical model that seemed to govern the imperial trajectory of the great Italian city-states. In the other narratives of imperial eclipse examined...

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Chapter 2 - Calculating the Consequences: Property Fears in Prescott’s Conquest of Peru

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pp. 45-73

Cooper described nineteenth-century Venice in The Bravo as “the ruins of what, during the Middle Ages, was the mart of the Mediterranean” (24). Venice’s medieval heyday came to an end when new geographies reconfigured the patterns of global commerce in the early modern period. The Americas as a source of European...

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Chapter 3 - Inquisition: Religious Tolerance and Motley’s Rise of the Dutch Republic

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pp. 74-95

Spain’s American conquests in the early sixteenth century catapulted it into a stratospheric rise, transforming it into the most powerful and extensive empire in the world. However, it did not long retain this unqualified position of global eminence. Domestic economic troubles and European wars in the late sixteenth...

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Chapter 4 - The Vanishing Dutchman: Ethnicity in Irving’s A History of New York

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pp. 96-118

Given the fact that John Lothrop Motley required three large volumes to describe only the first thirty years of the Dutch Republic, one of his reviewers wondered “how many more will be required to recount the definite establishment of the Republic, its foreign and domestic wars, its internal discords, its revolutions, its...

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Chapter 5 - Northmen and Native Americans: Longfellow’s Resistance to Eclipse

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pp. 119-147

The arrival of European colonizers supposedly put an end to the era of the Indian. U.S. Americans imagined that the eclipse of the North American Indian world by European and Euro-American empire had already been thoroughly accomplished by the nineteenth century. Although Native Americans— like the ethnic Dutch...

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pp. 148-161

The French would not retain possession of the land of the Ojibway for very long; New France stayed true to the domino pattern that had structured the course of so many early modern empires. For a century following Père Marquette’s advent into Ojibwan territory, the French struggled with the British in a contest for imperial...


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pp. 163-201


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pp. 203-218


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pp. 219-225

E-ISBN-13: 9780817387037
E-ISBN-10: 081738703X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817313821
Print-ISBN-10: 0817313826

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 1 illustration
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 856870586
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Eclipse of Empires

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Literature, Modern ‡x History and criticism.
  • World history in literature.
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