Describing Early America: Bartram, Jefferson, Crevecoeur, And The Rhetoric Of Natural History

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Embedded in the rhetoric of some of the key writings on early America Regis finds the concepts and presuppositions of natural history. Describing Early America examines Bartram's Travels, Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, and Crevecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer - texts that previously have been viewed as belles lettres - and shows how these writings employ recognized scientific methods in recording observations of the new world. Focusing on the descriptions of plant, animal, and human life in ...
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Overview

Embedded in the rhetoric of some of the key writings on early America Regis finds the concepts and presuppositions of natural history. Describing Early America examines Bartram's Travels, Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, and Crevecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer - texts that previously have been viewed as belles lettres - and shows how these writings employ recognized scientific methods in recording observations of the new world. Focusing on the descriptions of plant, animal, and human life in the new territories, Regis reestablishes the scientific framework of these texts and offers a reading "based on the lost paradigm of the science of natural history." According to Regis, writers observing the new world extended the Linnaean system developed for classifying plants to their descriptive narratives of the land, its animals, and its inhabitants, including the native populations and blacks. These descriptions, Regis argues, ultimately legitimized in scientific terms a view of the natural order of the world, expressed in the idea of the Great Chain of Being, which in a hierarchy places "savages" below "Homo sapiens europaeus." Such historyless and faceless descriptions resulted in a portrayal of America as a static, timeless tableau awaiting occupation. Regis considers natural history in its original context, examines the rhetoric of natural history writing - its organization, sentences, and diction - and links the genre to early descriptive narrative through an analysis of Travels, Notes, and Letters. In her persuasive rediscovery of an intellectual tradition, she offers a fresh view of the way in which such texts were conceived and drafted and how they contributed to the self-definition of America.
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Editorial Reviews

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Examines texts from 18th-century America, which have been considered belles-lettres, and finds in them scientific methods and systematic observations of a now extinct discipline, natural history. Shows how descriptions of plant, animal, and human life adhered to earlier principles, and how they influenced later definitions of America. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780875801667
  • Publisher: Northern Illinois University Press
  • Publication date: 1/7/1992
  • Pages: 203
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue: Recovering a Lost Paradigm
Ch. 1 Natural History in Context 2
Ch. 2 Description and Narration in Bartram's Travels 40
Ch. 3 Jefferson and the Department of Man 79
Ch. 4 Crevecoeur's "Curious observations of the naturalist" 106
Ch. 5 The Passing of Natural History and the Literature of Place 135
Notes 159
Works Cited 177
Index 185
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