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Fatal Revolutions: Natural History, West Indian Slavery, and the Routes of American Literature

Fatal Revolutions: Natural History, West Indian Slavery, and the Routes of American Literature

by Christopher P. Iannini

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Drawing on letters, illustrations, engravings, and neglected manuscripts, Christopher Iannini connects two dramatic transformations in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world--the emergence and growth of the Caribbean plantation system and the rise of natural science. Iannini argues that these transformations were not only deeply interconnected, but that together they established conditions fundamental to the development of a distinctive literary culture in the early Americas. In fact, eighteenth-century natural history as a literary genre largely took its shape from its practice in the Caribbean, an oft-studied region that was a prime source of wealth for all of Europe and the Americas.
The formal evolution of colonial prose narrative, Ianinni argues, was contingent upon the emergence of natural history writing, which itself emerged necessarily from within the context of Atlantic slavery and the production of tropical commodities. As he reestablishes the history of cultural exchange between the Caribbean and North America, Ianinni recovers the importance of the West Indies in the formation of American literary and intellectual culture as well as its place in assessing the moral implications of colonial slavery.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807838181
Publisher: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 03/12/2013
Series: Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Christopher P. Iannini is associate professor of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

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From the Publisher

Extensively researched and historically grounded, Fatal Revolutions is an important addition to eighteenth-century literary and cultural studies. . . . Iannini unearths a vast archive and leads us to reconceive the spatial and linguistic boundaries of colonial and early national study.—Philip Gould, Brown University

Fatal Revolutions takes us on a fascinating journey of discovery. With an eye for detail as sharp as that of any naturalist he studies, Iannini examines the connection between natural history and plantation slavery in a way that makes the West Indies seem, not at all exotically peripheral, but intellectually central to the American narrative.—Gregory Nobles, Georgia Institute of Technology

In this revolutionary text, Iannini expands our understanding of natural history as a genre central to the 'world of letters' that expressed the tenets of the American Enlightenment—not restricted to the mainland of British North America, but embedded in the Caribbean and tied inextricably to the culture of slavery upon which a circumatlantic plantation economy was bound.—Amy R. W. Meyers, director, Yale Center for British Art

Iannini shows that as circumatlantic networks of commerce, slavery, power, and revolution interwove natural science with the literary and artistic imagination, early American literature became saturated with the strategies of natural history. The implications are profound: no reader of this extraordinary and ambitious book will see the world of American letters in quite the same way again.—Laura Dassow Walls, University of Notre Dame

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