Describing Early America: Bartram, Jefferson, Crevecoeur, and the Influence of Natural History / Edition 1by Pamela Regis
Pub. Date: 03/28/1999
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
"So much has been written about Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, William Bartram's Travels, and St. John de Crevecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer that one might suppose that nothing new could be said about them. Yet,
"Regis makes an important contribution to the understanding of eighteenth-century American ideas."--William & Mary Quarterly
"So much has been written about Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, William Bartram's Travels, and St. John de Crevecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer that one might suppose that nothing new could be said about them. Yet, drawing on modes of analysis supplied by writers as diverse as Edmund Burke, Arthur O. Lovejoy, Michel Foucault, and Clifford Geertz, Pamela Regis has constructed an interpretive context which views these well-known texts from a new perspective."--Times Higher Education Supplement
"Regis offers a valuable and challenging revision of contemporary understanding of her subjects' literary purposes and the place of these texts in American literary history."--American Literature
Describing Early America is a study of William Bartram's Travels, Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, and J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer that situates them within two important intellectual traditions: the literature of travel and the science of natural history. Pamela Regis contends that the travel genre provided the narrative framework on which these texts were built, but that natural history offered much more: a way of looking at the world, a way of describing what the authors saw, and an overarching scheme in which to fit what they had seen.
During the eighteenth century, natural history was understood to encompass a broad range of scientific inquiry. Natural historians took for their subject matter all of what they called Creation and approached it through a single methodology. At the center of this methodology was the Linnaean system of describing and naming plants and animals, classifying them, and locating them along the Great Chain of Being. In Linnaeus's scheme the natural order is static and timeless.
Regis argues that this static view of the natural order dominates the rhetorical structures of Travels, Notes, and Letters, where the narrative sections serve merely to connect passages shaped by the descriptive method of natural history. This method makes the land appear new, stripped of any history. Thus Bartram's America, for example, seems to be waiting for history to happen and for individuals to live their lives there.
Pamela Regis is Associate Professor of English at Western Maryland College.
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Table of Contents
Prologue: Recovering a Lost Paradigm
1. Natural History in Context
2. Description and Narration in Bartram's Travels
3. Jefferson and the Department of Man
4. Crèvecoeur's "Curious observations of the naturalist"
5. The Passing of Natural History and the Literature of Place
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