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Introduction Kris Fresonke And Joshua . . . sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there. . . . And [Rahab] said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. Joshua 2:1, 2:9 1 Despite the drab Sacagawea dollar, despite commemorative tourism, despite sentimental histories, despite Lewis and Clark souvenirs made from authentic Dakota prairie grasses, despite the enforced invisibility of Native Americans, despite national park gift shops, despite half-baked bicentennial hagiography, despite product placement, and despite the national mood of hero worship, Lewis and Clark’s achievement in the early nineteenth century is still absorbing, momentous, and of seemingly inexhaustible interest. The purpose of this collection is to offer a selection of the latest scholarship on the expedition, and to assess, on the occasion of the bicentennial, its importance in American history and literature. That importance is a given, but the exact line to take, or bead to draw, has always been a source of debate. In literary studies, Lewis and Clark’s redoubtable Journals have shown up only recently in the nineteenth-century canon, signaled by the publication of Nebraska’s scholarly edition; for many years, exploration writing was simply a subliterary “artifact.” In history, scholars are still contending with the view that must be called Ambrosian, after its only true begetter Stephen Ambrose: “Lewis and Clark are the real thing. They’re authentic heroes. They bind the continent together, they bind together the American people in a way that nobody else can, or ever will.”1 The New Western History has had its say, too: to the sentimental concept of Lewis and Clark’s troupe as a “family,” the dry-eyed Patricia Nelson Limerick replied simply: dysfunctional. In the other social sciences, claims of Lewis and Clark’s sympathetic anthropology versus their aggressive manipulation of tribes are hotly exchanged. Feminist scholarship has seen to it that the woman whose name we misspell as Sacagawea, a Rahab to King Joshua’s pair of spies, has finally been promoted from noble savage. The meanings of Lewis and Clark are more disputed, some would say, than the tribal lands they assessed for later seizure by the United States. All of these disputes and more are part of a story that scholarship at the bicentennial must acknowledge and try to retell. The Journals and the ways they have been published and read seem a good place to start. We can see in their changing material fortunes, and the different meanings they’ve held for different readers, a glimpse of the reflected standing of Lewis and Clark. Every age has had its own edition of the Journals, and in something as minor as our changing editorial tastes we declare our intentions toward the historical meaning of the expedition. Every Lewis and Clark fan has probably seen a page or two of Meriwether Lewis’s elegant handwriting and perhaps a few of Clark’s sketches of animals and plants. (See Figure 3, for an example.) For field records, subject to accident and abuse, the journals are extremely handsome: Lewis and Clark used brown ink that has aged beautifully and wrote in two kinds of book—one elkskin-bound, and the other red morocco with marbled endpapers. When you are permitted to examine these notebooks at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, the sponsor of the expedition and its archive, you must put on a pair of white gloves. Thomas Jefferson declared before anyone else that the Journals were “literary ,” a term that in 1803 conveyed the several fields of inquiry that would benefit from Lewis and Clark’s findings. Jefferson meant, in his fine Augustan word choice, something we would clumsily have to call “interdisciplinary writerliness.” The different genres that share a single text of exploration , such as journal, travelogue, scientific observation, military record, political theory, and so on, are all unified by their single goal of describing the new land, their use of written language to capture and commemorate those descriptions, and thus their single “literary” bearing. It is odd, then, that this literary document passed quickly into subliterary status. Part of the problem was, of course, that the Journals didn’t exist in print at all until 1814. The nineteenth century, in...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520937147
Related ISBN
9780520238220
MARC Record
OCLC
55749588
Pages
298
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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