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Representations of North American 'place' and 'potential' in English travel literature, 1607-1660

By Catherine Armstrong


This thesis analyses the representations of North America in English travel narratives between the years 1607-1660. Texts in both print and manuscript format are examined to discover how authors described the geography, climate, landscape, flora and fauna of America, as well as the settlements established there by the English. The thesis is mostly concerned with literature concerning Virginia and New England, although the settlements of Newfoundland, Maine and Maryland are also briefly mentioned. The first chapter describes the methodology of the thesis and locates its place alongside the existing literature. A chapter explaining the pre-history of English involvement in North America in the reign of Elizabeth I follows. Chapter Three describes the connection between printing and adventuring on which the thesis is predicted, explaining how the authors’ intentions and experiences affected their portrayal of the New World. The ways in which authors understood the geography and climate of America are explored in Chapter Four, including the influence of European thinking and the writers’ experiences in America itself. The landscape, including rivers, mountains and forests are examined next in chapter five, with a special focus on the Englishmen’s subduing of the landscape and their reactions to its potential. Chapters Six and Seven deal with the flora and fauna of the New World, tracing how the settlers’ initial high hopes of using the diversity of wildlife they encountered gave way to the realisation that familiar crops and animals imported from Europe would prove more useful than those found locally, with a few notable exceptions, such as tobacco. Chapters Eight and Nine analyse the changing representations of the English settlements themselves, by comparing the English experiences in Virginia and those of New England. Again, initial hopes give way to an acceptance of a less idealistic vision for the plantations. Chapter Ten brings the focus of the thesis back to England, asking how printed information about the New World was transmitted around the country by various practitioners of the printing trade, and who was able to digest this information. The representation of America, not only in travel narratives, but also in other forms of literature such as ballads, poetry and plays, are reviewed more broadly in chapter eleven, and an attempt is made to define the responses of individual and collective readers to the news from the New World that they gathered. In its conclusion, the thesis explores the influence of this literature on the new scientific thinking and on England’s relationship with her colonies

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