- Future History: Global Fantasies in Seventeenth-Century American and British Writings by Kristina Bross
Almost two decades ago, David Armitage pronounced, “We are all Atlanticists now.”1 Recent scholarship, however, suggests that the category of the Atlantic is not sufficiently capacious and that, perhaps, we are all global historians now. Increasingly, Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean scholars have been moving beyond their artificial watery borders and looking for crosscurrents. Kristina Bross’s provocative Future History follows this trend by looking globally and elucidating how early modern writers about empire drew power from doing the same.
When Armitage made the above statement in The British Atlantic World (2002), Atlantic history had come into its own. But in the following years, historians increasingly began to question oceanic boundaries. In 2006 Alison Games, Philip J. Stern, Paul W. Mapp, and Peter A. Coclanis participated in a Forum for the William and Mary Quarterly entitled “Beyond the Atlantic,” which called for an examination of the ways in which the Atlantic world often oozed beyond its own borders.2 Soon books that forwarded this perspective appeared, including Games’s The Web of Empire, Mapp’s The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, Benjamin Schmidt’s Inventing Exoticism, Jonathan Eacott’s Selling Empire, and Mark G. Hanna’s Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire.3 In these works, Atlantic historians pressed outward by following people, things, organizations, or events that flowed beyond the expected confines of the Atlantic basin. [End Page 134]
Though many of these books centered on people who traveled all over the world, Schmidt examined how Europeans who did not travel perceived the rest of the globe. Similarly, investigating how Europeans thought about the wider world has been the preferred strategy of literary scholars, for at the same time that Atlantic historians were questioning their own borders, scholars such as Shankar Raman, Robert Markley, and Susan Scott Parrish were exploring how the English understood regions such as India, the Far East, and North America.4 Bross combines these two approaches. Like the historians she looks globally, but—unlike the travelers or objects that they study—the texts she examines are products of the imagination, in which the constraints of time and place are manipulated to serve the purposes of their creators. The global nature of Bross’s work matters, but so do the “fantasies” of her subtitle, for they allowed these global authors to alter realities.
Future History has three arguments that intertwine and reinforce each other. The first is that a set of texts, published mostly in the 1650s, pushed their readers to imagine a new, more powerful British Empire. This set of literary fantasies is what she means by “future history.” The second is that the world they asked their readers to imagine was global, connecting east and west, and that these global stories presented English intervention as righteous through comparisons with other communities and empires. Third, the book examines the way that the authors of these global fantasies made specific use of the indigenous and women as tools to promote this sense of righteousness.
Bross most effectively explores the power of an imagined but not yet realized global empire in her first two chapters. Chapter 1 investigates the anonymous A Brief Description of the Future History of Europe, from Anno 1650 to An. 1710 (1650) and William Lilly’s Monarchy or No Monarchy in England (1651) to illustrate how the millennialist beliefs of religious radicals helped the English imagine a global empire that was predicated upon indigenous conversion. The second chapter examines Thomas Gage’s The English-American his Travail by Sea and Land (1648) to argue that by recounting his travels through the Spanish Empire when he was a Dominican monk, the Anglican convert and imperial projector Gage pushed his readers to envision a world in which England could possess that empire and right its wrongs.
In the following chapters, Bross explores how authors used the power of this global imagination to support existing...