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Introduction In his posthumously published autobiography, the Harvard-­ based paleontologist , geologist, and slav­ ery apologist Nathaniel Southgate Shaler reminiscences that one morning in the spring of 1861, he found his teacher, Louis Agassiz, weeping on Cambridge’s Divinity Avenue. One of the world’s foremost natural scientists, Agassiz was a faculty member in Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School, where Shaler was conducting studies. Shaler describes Agassiz as “greatly disturbed” and “almost raving in his misery.” When Shaler asked what was wrong, Agassiz bawled, “They will Mexicanize the country” (Shaler 1909, 170). Agassiz had just learned that South Carolina had fired on Fort Sumter, and Shaler writes that Agassiz continued to be distraught for some time. At the root of his dismay were the forces he believed had sparked the Civil War: abolitionism and arguments for social equality between the races. Given his belief in immutable racial hierarchies, ­ Agassiz held that emancipation and equality deviated from a naturally stratified or­ der. Such deviation would result in racial intermixture. Consistent with the era’s pseudoscientific, polygeneticist views (Johnson 1993, 210), ­ Agassiz believed miscegenation resulted in degradation (Agassiz and Agassiz 1868, 139, 298). Emancipation thus portended dire biological and social ills—indeed, the end of what made the United States great. Encapsulating this failure for Agassiz was the fearful idea of a mestizo, “Mexicanized” United States (Menand 2000, 101–12). This moment speaks to issues familiar to scholars of US literature,1 culture , and history, such as antebellum Anglo-­Saxonism and prejudice against Af­ ri­ can Ameri­ cans. The story attests to how race and national identity were thought of interrelatedly in the period. For Agassiz, the concept of race was necessary to understand not only the races themselves but also the natures and destinies of nations. However, the moment suggests aspects of this story of nationality that scholarly accounts have underemphasized. Scholars of race and nation in US 2 / Introduction culture have tended to focus on a white (Anglo-­ Ameri­ can), black (Af­ ri­ can Ameri­ can), and red (Native Ameri­ can) triad, but Agassiz is preoccupied by relations between Anglo-­ Ameri­ cans and Mexicans. Second of all, it is easy to associate brash confidence with Anglo-­ Saxonist racialism. According to racialist myth, the Anglo-­Saxon race “follows the sun” toward progress, displacing all in its wake. However, doubt pervades Shaler’s account; Agassiz agonizes over whether the United States is immutably its Anglo-­ Saxon self or whether it can be “Mexicanized.” Agassiz was chauvinistic, but his words bespeak fear more than arrogance. In exclaiming that abolition “will Mexicanize the country,” Agassiz expresses worry that the United States will lose its distinctiveness by devolving into Mexico, a racial and national Other. My book takes this moment as a point of departure. Reading the set of issues broached by the Agassiz episode against eighteenth-­and nineteenth-­ century US literature set in, representing, or focusing on Spain and Spanish America, I ask a series of questions: Why, when confronted with the prospect of a racially mixed United States, did Agassiz resort to Mexico as his explanatory metaphor? How did US literary representations of Spain, Spanish-­ ness, Spanish America, and Spanish Ameri­ can-­ ness construct US national identity and imperial ideology? Why did these issues provoke uncertainty and fear in many US Ameri­ cans?2 My study builds on work that suggests the salience of Spain and Spanish America to US culture and that thus argues for a transnational frame for US literature (e.g., Boggs 2007; Gruesz 2002; Jakšić 2007; Rodríguez 2010; Streeby 2002). I maintain that representations of Spain, Spanish America, Spanish-­ ness, and Spanish Ameri­ can-­ ness are integral to early US literature ’s evolution. Spain and Spanish America play a major role in all the era’s literary genres, genres ranging from epic poems with multiple chapters focusing on the Spanish conquest of the Aztec and Incan civilizations, travelogues about Cuba, novellas about slave mutinies on Spanish slave ships off the South Ameri­ can coast, and antislav­ ery novels criticizing Cuban slav­ ery. These themes encompass both canonical and noncanonical traditions. I high­ light both understudied texts that deserve greater attention and use discussion of such texts to reframe more familiar works. Our understanding of US literature is immeasurably enhanced when we recognize the formal and conceptual uses to which writers put representations of Hispanophone peoples. Abolitionist novelists, for instance, could enhance their oft-­ noted elicitation of sentimental engagement with the slave’s plight by connecting slav­ ery to...


Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
  • American literature -- Spanish influences.
  • American literature -- Latin American influences.
  • Latin America -- In literature.
  • Spain -- In literature.
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