- Women in Early America: Recharting Hemispheric and Atlantic Desire, special issue of Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writersed. by Tamara Harvey
Tamara Harvey’s introducton to the special issue of Legacy—Women in Early America: Recharting Hemispheric and Atlantic Desire—characterizes its six scholarly articles as studies that extend, reinvigorate, and, crucially, question a paradigm of “mapping” as a prevalent approach to early American studies. Averring the field’s embrace of hemispheric studies with concurrent emphases on models of center-periphery and on cartographic representation, Harvey astutely notes that early American studies scholarship on map metaphors and, indeed, actual maps often fails to include or account for the complexity of women’s lives and expressions. With this special issue, she seeks to disrupt the “mapping efforts” that represent women solely as limited, static, and embedded objects in a field, “loung[ing] in the cartouches of mappae mundi” (pp. 161, 159). Moreover, while challenging map paradigms, Harvey also argues that critical approaches to studying early American women must revisit commonplace models of colonialist “desire” wherein representations by and of women are read almost exclusively through Othering and through strictly delimited gender roles, such as reductive readings of domestication.
“Recharting Hemispheric and Atlantic Desire” serves as an apt title for her introduction because, in addition to her illuminating discussion of the limitations she finds in cartographic theory and in theories of desire as they have been applied to women’s lives and work, Harvey has assembled a selection of articles that “rechart” the geographical as well as theoretical terrain of early American studies of women and early American women’s studies. Unsurprisingly, each of these articles engages in recovery through archival research, a continuing feminist project, and each thereby fulfills Harvey’s call for the often “labor-intensive” work required for local, particular studies of women, “intricately portrayed” (p. 161). While some of these studies offer fresh ways of reading familiar texts, such as Michelle Burnham’s interpretation of Leonora Sansay’s Secret History(1808), they also revisit foundational themes and approaches in the feminist study of early women: the exemplary woman; female “voice” (and self-representation under patriarchal constraints); the problem of acceding to and/or asserting authority in male-dominated institutions; victim/oppressor dichotomies; inclusion in or exclusion from “the historical record” (p. 220); and comparative and cross-cultural studies. [End Page 245]
Recurrence to these foundational concerns imparts coherence to the special issue notwithstanding its wide-ranging subject matter and periods. For example, Mónica Díaz’s essay on the “textual and visual traces” of Native women in religious communities pairs elegantly with Andrew Newman’s article, “Fulfilling the Name: Catherine Tekakwitha and Marguerite Kanenstenhawi (Eunice Williams)” (p. 217). Díaz’s focus on “transculturation processes” leads her to argue that “the adoption of Western rhetorical strategies and symbolic languages … (re)placed Indigenous women from the marginal position of female savage to the more privilged position of the exemplary, docile, or convertIndian women” (p. 208), while Newman’s study of the specific naming rituals (in)forming Tekakwitha and Kanenstenhawi provide valuable insight into the processes and outcomes that shaped the identities and legacies of these transculturated women. Both essays are cogent comparative studies that complicate the scholarly conversations about colonial Catholicism by closely attending to intersections of religion, ethnicity, and gender.
While Díaz’s and Newman’s articles focus on women’s tranformations in what Mary Louise Pratt calls “contact zone[s]” (qtd. in Díaz, p. 206), those by Rocío Quispe-Agnoli, Jodi Schorb, and Abby Chandler constitute a fruitful collocation of studies on women and legal institutions. Together, they offer a “hemispheric” glance at how women in various places and times mobilized—or were immobilized by—legal discourses. Quispe-Agnoli’s recovery of “accounts of Indies” by sixteenth-century encomenderasin Peru introduces remarkable texts concerning female agency and female complicity in brutal colonial conquest regimes. In these “accounts” of service to the Spanish empire, Quispe-Agnoli finds...