America in British Consciousness, 1660-1750

Richard Frohock

Course Concept

This course, which comes out of my current research project, is designed to explore ways in which the British imagined and represented the New World during the Restoration and early eighteenth century. The British were struggling to strengthen their presence in America during these years, desiring in particular to expand to regions in the West Indies, South America, and along the Pacific coast. The British were simultaneously endeavoring to make meaning of the Americas and their experiences there. An imprecise and incomplete outline on the map, with uncertain interiors, the New World seemed ready and waiting to be invested with advantageous significations.

The course considers how British writers from a variety of social, religious, and professional backgrounds grapple with the problems and possibilities of representing the New World. In selecting the course readings, I have intended to suggest that there was no easy assimilation of the Americas into British conceptual frameworks. Instead, public discussion about the New World may be viewed as an unruly conversation, ever shifting in form and emphasis. Representations vary due to the immensity of the Americas, the diversity of individual experiences, and the range of points of view and interests in New World economic potential.

British writers representing the New World employ a wide range of narrative forms. America is depicted in heroic drama of the Restoration stage, but also in street pageants, broadsides, and satires. In addition to representations of America in imaginative literature, course texts also include histories, travel narratives, illustrations, and maps. One objective of the interdisciplinarity is to investigate ways in which forms that students may associate unproblematically with fact also draw on narrative strategies characteristic of imaginative literature. Histories emplot, travel narratives create characters, and maps—in the process of naming—interpret as well as describe. In short, the course considers ways in which one may say, along with Edmundo O'Gorman, that Europeans invented, rather than discovered, the Americas.1

Description of Units

The reading calendar sets canonical texts in a web of lesser known narratives which engage in the conversation about English empire in the New World. While stressing diversity, I intend to give the course structure by dividing it into four units, each consisting of narratives that cluster around a single author, theme, or mode of representation. Each unit is interdisciplinary in nature, including, in addition to literature, at least one history and some illustrations. My conception is that the units will be subject to centripetal and centrifugal forces. A slide show punctuates the end of each unit, allowing students to review issues through a new medium.

Unit 1

"America Painted to the Life," introduces students to heroic modes of representing the Americas and British activities there. We begin with Ferdinando Gorges' America Painted to the Life (1659), which advertises on its title page its intention "to stir up the Heroick and Active Spirits of these times," and describes the conquest of America as more glorious than any other in world history. John Phillips, in the "Epistle Dedicatory" to Tears of the Indians (1656), and "To All True Englishmen," similarly calls for British heroics in the New World, declaring that his countrymen are required by God to avenge Spanish cruelties in the West Indies. These examples of patriotic prose prepare students to read theatrical representations of America from the 1660s. Sir William Davenant's masques, Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (1658) and The History of Sir Francis Drake (1659), offer further images of the English as scourge of Spain, avengers of Native Americans, and conquerors in the New World. After Davenant, the class considers Dryden's use of American settings and American history in his heroic dramas The Indian Queen (1664) and The Indian Emperour (1665). Dryden complicates previous considerations by attributing heroic virtues to Native Americans, and, to some extent, the conqueror Cortés, rather than the English. For heroic celebration of England's imperial future, we turn to Dryden's poetry: "Astrea Redux" (1660) and sections from Annus Mirabilus (1667). The unit closes with consideration of the street pageant London Triumphant (1672), as described by Thomas Jordan. Of special interest is the personification of America as a "proper Masculine Woman" and the representation of England as a nation privileged by royal Native Americans. The slide show at the end of the unit includes heroic images from Ogilby's America (1671), and "Cannibal America" from Gorge's America Painted to the Life.

Unit 2

"Aphra Behn's America," emphasizes modulations of the heroic treatment of the Americas during the latter decades of the seventeenth century. Behn certainly shares the interest in heroic virtues as they may be applied to New World situations, as can be seen, for instance, in Oroonoko (1688). For Behn, heroic virtues are linked to the gentile class and may cut across racial and ethnic lines. However, Behn also pays considerable attention to the role that the lower classes and merchant middle class may play in the formation and management of colonies. While writers in the previous unit tend to project a heroic future for England in the New World, Behn (and, later, Thomas Southerne) deal with the tensions and practicalities of existing colonies as they knew them from their reading or firsthand experience. As a consequence, the purely heroic visions of Davenant and Dryden are tempered and mixed with other strains, including comedy and farce. The antics of transported convicts in Oroonoko, for example, seriously disrupt the possibilities for heroic virtue. Behn's Widow Ranter (1689) also makes room for farce and comic plots; the machinations of the bumbling council members are overcome when the rakish yet honorable characters rise heroically to the occasion of subduing the colonial rebel, Nathaniel Bacon. The third major text in this unit, Southerne's Oroonoko (1696), offers a further opportunity to consider the tensions between heroic, comic, and farcical plotting in a New World setting. In Southerne's stage adaptation of Behn's novella, heroic virtue is still valued, but its viability in the New World is drawn into question. Non-literary materials in this unit include travel descriptions of Surinam (George Warren, Description of Surinam [1667]); an advertisement for the new colony of Surinam (Lord Willoughby, Prospectus for Settlers to Surinam [ca. 1655]); and selections from a popular history of the period (Nathaniel Crouch, English Empire in America [1685]).

Unit 3

"New World Travel Narratives," explores various types of rhetoric in New World travel accounts, real and imaginary. Students will begin by reading selections from Thomas Sprat, History of the Royal Society (1667), in which Sprat defines philosophical inquiry in relation to conquest. For Sprat, the scientist plays a more important role in advancing empire than does the conqueror; furthermore, the English, above all other nations, are the most suited to scientific inquiry. In particular, the Spanish, again, serve as the foil against which the English can define their imperial superiority. The selections from Sprat's History set up a reading of passages from several prominent travel narratives: William Dampier's New Voyage Round the World (1696), Lionel Wafer's Description of the Isthmus of America (1699), and Woodes Rogers's A Cruising Voyage (1712). These narratives fashion the relationship between "action" and "description" in different ways, and give varying degrees of emphasis to military conquest and to observation (natural history). With this background in eighteenth-century travel narrative, students are primed to consider Daniel Defoe's use of the style, form, and themes of New World travel narratives in several of his novels. A selection from Locke will first introduce the idea that labor, rather than conquest, establishes property and dominion. These Lockean notions will then be pursued and tested for applicability in Defoe's fictions. Robinson Crusoe (1719) illustrates an Englishman becoming governor and proprietor of an American island by occupying and cultivating it. Selections from The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and New Voyage Round the World (1724) allow for further consideration of the value of labor and its relation to property ownership and character reform in Defoe's work. Notably, in this last novel the Spanish are condemned more for indigence than for cruelty.

Unit 4

This unit of the course concerns "Satirical Uses of the New World" in British literature and culture. The satires in this unit refuse to distinguish the English as more heroic, scientifically capable, or industrious than other nations; if anything, they single out the English for their tolerance for, and practice of, vice. The readings in this final unit thus should prompt students to review and reflect on those of the previous three. The unit begins with several issues of Steele and Addison's Spectator which contain tales from the colonies (such as the story of Inkle and Yarico). For Steele and Addison, the noble qualities and virtues that Davenant had attributed to Englishman are more likely to be found among "uncivilized" Native Americans and enslaved Africans. The English, by contrast, have lost natural virtues due to the corruptions of civilization and culture, and would do well to model themselves on the virtues of "noble savages." Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) constitutes the next major reading, and serves to further illustrate the satirical strategy of condemning the vices of home by viewing them from a foreign vantage point. In the final chapter, Gulliver ostensibly distinguishes the imperial practices of the Spanish and the English—a strategy common in New World narratives—yet the satirical force of this passage is, naturally, to undermine that very distinction. In similar fashion, John Gay's Polly (1729) undermines the grandeur and pre tension of English imperialists. The pirates of the play represent their plundering in heroic terms, identifying themselves with conquerors such as Alexander, Pizarro, and Cortés. Gay's identification of heroic conquest with piracy helps marks for students the distance we have traveled since Davenant's heroic representation of Sir Francis Drake in the beginning of the course. The final reading is Tobias Smollett's account of the botched British attempt to seize Carthegena in The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748), a military expedition which Smollett participated in and represented in unheroic terms.

Some Comments on Pedagogy and Assignments

One very utilitarian pedagogical goal will be to introduce students to methods of locating and obtaining seventeenth and eighteenth century narratives. Students will become familiar with bibliographies (e.g. European Americana), online library catalogues (e.g. Worldcat), microform collections (e.g. "Early English Books, 1641-1700"), and internet "etext" databases (e.g. "Oxford Text Archive") important to research in this area. Early in the semester I will demonstrate electronic research tools in our electronic classroom. In the past, I have been able to have a university librarian create a web site specifically for my class which centralizes access to relevant cites, and allows for efficient addition of resources throughout the semester.2 A fieldtrip to the rare books collection at Oklahoma University, which has strengths in the history of science, may also be scheduled. (I am intrigued by Lisa Berglund's idea of teaching classes in a rare books room.) To help students apply what they learn about research methods, each will be responsible for a class presentation on a primary source obtained from a microform collection or electronic database. In the presentation, students will describe their chosen narrative and comment on its significance by relating it to class readings and/or their individual research project.

Throughout the semester, students will also participate in an online discussion which will take place on a web site message board. (I want to mention this in particular because of the discussion of the usefulness of listservs in the last issue of Teaching the Eighteenth Century.) Unlike a listserv, which simply stores messages in the order in which they are submitted, the web site message board organizes submissions hierarchically. Responses to main topics are indented and listed under that main topic; responses to responses are indented further, and so on. The advantage of this arrangement is that it preserves the history of discussion in a way that makes visually apparent the multiple threads which may thrive simultaneously. It also makes students more aware of the types of contributions they are making—that is, the degree to which they are responding to their classmates, as well as to the reading material. For the instructor, web-based databases have the useful feature of allowing messages to be re-grouped by author. Thus, at the end of the semester, the task of reviewing contributions made by individual students, for the purposes evaluation, is greatly simplified.3 The web site, in conjunction with class discussion, should foster the kind of interaction that is a primary goal of the seminar. Ideally, students will create their own unruly conversation, simultaneously pursuing a multitude of topics related to British narrations of the New World.


According to Mikhail Bakhtin, "only the mythical Adam" was able to speak about the world without entering into dialogue. "Concrete historical human discourse," on the other hand, can never fully escape "dialogic inter-orientation with the alien word." 4 Certainly between 1660 and 1750, the New World was a much discussed and contested object. Exploring the inter-orientation—the dialogue between narratives representing the New World—is the principal aim of this course.

As much as learning answers, I hope that students learn to ask good questions about British empire in America during the Restoration and early eighteenth century. How did the British represent their empire? How did they justify the appropriation of land in America? What forms of colonial government did they imagine? What (competing) voices entered the public conversation? I would consider it a great success were any student to decide to continue to wrestle with such questions—in essays revised for departmental essay contests, honors projects, etcetera—after the conclusion of the course.

Course Outline/Syllabus

Required Texts

Behn, Oroonoko, The Rover, and Other Works (Penguin 1992)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (Oxford 1990)

Swift, Gulliver's Travels (Oxford 1998)

*reading packet (many books also on reserve at the library)

Unit 1


Week 1

Gorges, from America Painted to the Life (1659)

John Phillips, from Tears of the Indians (1656) ("Epistle

Dedicatory"; "To All True Englishmen")

Week 2

Davenant, Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (1658) Davenant, The History of Sir Francis Drake (1659)

Anon, "A Ballad Upon The Late New Opera, `The Cruelty

of the Spaniards in Peru'" (1658?)

Week 3

Dryden, The Indian Queen (1664)

Dryden, The Indian Emperour (1665)

Dryden, "Astrea Redux" (1660); from Annus Mirabilus (1667)

Week 4

John Ogilby, from America (1671)

Thomas Jordan, London Triumphant (1672)

Slide show #1: "Montezuma," from Ogilby

"Cannibal America," from Gorges

"Cruelty of the Spaniards," from Phillips

Hogarth, "Indian Emperour"

Unit 2

BEHN'S AMERICA: The Heroic, Comic and Farcical

Week 5

Lord Willoughby, Prospectus for Settlers to Surinam (ca. 1655)

George Warren, from Description of Surinam (1667)

Thomas Tryon, from "Complaints of Negro-Slaves" (1684)

Week 6

Nathaniel Crouch, from English Empire in America(1685)

Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (1688)

Week 7

Behn, "To Christopher Duke of Albemarle, on his

Voyage to his Government of Jamaica" (1687)

Aphra Behn, The Widow Ranter (1689)

Week 8

Thomas Southerne, Oroonoko (1696)

Slide Show #2: Anne Bracegirdle as Indian Queen

Images of Oroonoko from 1722 edition

Frontispiece to Southerne, Oroonoko, 1735

Maps of Surinam

Unit 3

TRAVEL NARRATIVES: Knowledge, Labor, and Conquest

Week 9

Thomas Sprat, from History of the Royal Society (1667)

William Dampier, from New Voyage Round the World (1696)

Lionel Wafer, from Description of the Isthmus of America (1699)

Woodes Rogers, from A Cruising Voyage (1712)

Week 10

Locke, from Two Treatises of Civil Government (1690)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)

Week 11
Defoe, from Further Adventures (1719)
Defoe, from Colonel Jack (1722)

Week 12

Defoe, from New Voyage Round the World (1724) Oldmixon, from British Empire in America (1708)

Slide Show #3: Cartography and sketches from Dampier

Various plates from Wafer, including "Indian

Manner of Letting Blood"

Unit 4


Week 13

Steele, "Inkle and Yarico" (1711)

Addison on "The Four Indian Kings" (1711)

Steele, "The Lover" (1714)

Week 14

Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1726)

Week 15

John Gay, Polly (1729)

Smollett, from Roderick Random (1748)

Slide Show #4: various images of four Indian Kings portraits of Dampier and Gulliver


World Wide Web Discussion Group: You will be required to contribute to an online discussion group at least once a week. (I will give you detailed instructions on accessing the web site.) Discussion of any and every aspect of the course readings and your responses to them are welcome. The only restriction is that you should refrain from discussing readings ahead of schedule (material assigned in previous weeks is fair game). There are several types of contributions you can make: you can start a new discussion thread by submitting a new "main topic"; your "main topic" may be a question, or simply a comment about the reading (something you liked, didn't like, found interesting, disturbing, etc.). New threads are needed especially in the beginning of our endeavor and when discussion of existing threads seems to be waning. It is quite possible, and desirable, to have several different threads going at once. You may also contribute by responding to a fellow classmate's comment or question, or by responding to a response. To be an active participant, you will need to read all messages posted to the board regularly (at least twice a week). As a rule of thumb, plan on making at least one contribution per week, but of course you may be as active as you wish. Varying the types of contributions you make (question, commentary, response) will also help keep things lively. When you post messages, make sure to use a descriptive heading to let everyone know what topic you are addressing or raising. Remember, this is your discussion list—nurture it and it will flourish! Note: If you have any technical problems, be sure to inform me right away.

Class Presentation: Your task is to find some interesting primary sources in European Americana (or another bibliography) which you want to pursue and perhaps use in your seminar paper. Search them out, then select one particularly interesting source to present to class. Your presentation should include an account of your research process; a description of the source (type of narrative, written when, by whom, for what purpose, etc.), and a brief discussion of ways in which the source may be related to course readings and/or may be useful to you in your seminar paper. In other words, what arguments or interpretations might you begin to form about this material? You are welcome to work with illustrations as well as narrative. A handout is required with at least a paragraph of the narrative reproduced for the class. Presentations should be about 15-20 minutes.

Reserve Bibliography

Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas, 1981.

Francis Barker, ed. Europe and Its Others. Colchester: University of Essex, 1985.

Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iversen, eds. Colonial Discourse / Postcolonial Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994.

Philip P. Boucher, Cannibal Encounters: Europeans and Island Caribs, 1492-1763. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Laura Brown, The Ends of Empire: Women and Ideology in Early Eighteenth-Century English Literature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Eric Chefitz, The Poetics of Imperialism: Translation and Colonization From The Tempest to Tarzan. Expanded Edition. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.

Fredi Chiappelli, ed. First Images of America: The Impact of the New World on the Old. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Susan Danforth, Encountering the New World, 1493-1800: Catalogue of an Exhibition. Providence, RI: John Carter Brown Library, 1991.

Rachel Doggett, Monique Hulvey, and Julie Ainsworth, eds. New World of Wonders: European Images of the Americas, 1492-1700. Washington, DC: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1992.

J. H. Elliott, The Old World and the New, 1492-1650. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Antonello Gerbi, The Dispute of the New World: The History of a Polemic, 1750-1900. Trans. Jeremy Moyle. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.

Martin Green, Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire. London: Routledge, 1980.

Stephen Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Stephen Greenblatt, ed. New World Encounters. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Peter Hulme, Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492-1797. London: Methuen, 1986.

Jeffrey Knapp, An Empire Nowhere: England, America, and Literature From Utopia to The Tempest. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, ed. America in European Consciousness, 1493-1750. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Gesa Mackenthun, Metaphors of Dispossession: American Beginnings and the Translation of Empire, 1492_1637. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

William S. Maltby, The Black Legend in England: The Development of Anti-Spanish Sentiment, 1558_1660. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1971.

Peter Mason, Deconstructing America: Representations of the Other. New York: Routledge, 1990.

John McVeagh, ed. All Before Them: 1660-1780. London: Ashfield Press, 1990.

Felicity A. Nussbaum, Torrid Zones: Maternity, Sexuality, and Empire in Eighteenth-Century English Narratives. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

Edmundo O'Gorman, The Invention of America: An Inquiry into the Historical Nature of the New World and the Meaning of Its History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1961.

Anthony Pagden, European Encounters With the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

———. The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

———. Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France c.1500-c.1800. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

Gyan Prakash, ed. After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Trans-culturation. New York: Routledge, 1992.

G. S. Rousseau, and Roy Porter, eds. Exoticism in the Enlightenment. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990.

Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto & Windus, 1993.

Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's Conquest of the New World, 1492-1640. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

David Shields, Oracles of Empire: Poetry, Politics, and Commerce in British America, 1690-1750. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.

N o t e s

1. Edmundo O'Gorman, The Invention of America: An Inquiry into the Historical Nature of the New World and the Meaning of Its History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1961).

2. I would like to thank David Oberhelman for his help with creating class web pages.

3. For discussion of these issues, see Daniel Anderson, Teaching Literature Online: A Guide To Teaching with Technology in the Literature Classroom (New York: Longman, 1999), 12-17.

4. Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 279.



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