Natural history, exploration and the boundaries of literature in the early American republic.
This dissertation examines how America looked on paper around the time of the Revolution. With a continent that they barely knew, facing threats of dissolution, and forced not only to preserve but to capitalize upon their title to the backcountry, leaders of the early republic used literary narratives as vehicles for recording the shape of the terrain and facilitating its domestication. Writings about place, including natural histories, topographical essays, and exploration accounts, provided a medium for imaginatively transforming a country perceived mostly as wilderness, and evaluating how the economic and strategic resources of otherwise unmanageable territories might serve the union. The mediation between ideology and the land, prevalent through all of these works, brought the physical space that the United States had acquired from England within the domain of letters. Authors framed the still largely unsettled continent according to the conventions of neo-classical science and aesthetics, and within the European concept of a state. The original setting, along with its inhabitants, in turn, disappears or takes on a different visage through the act of description. For the newly framed government, America existed as a place on the map and as a literary text, one that would eventually alter the physical environment and alienate its previous inhabitants…
New York University
Hallock, Thomas (1995). Natural history, exploration and the boundaries of literature in the early American republic. (Doctoral dissertation). New York University.
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