In Search of First Contact
is a monumental achievement by the influential literary critic Annette Kolodny. In this book, she offers a radically new interpretation of two medieval Icelandic tales, known as the Vinland sagas. She contends that they are the first known European narratives about contact with North America. After carefully explaining the evidence for that conclusion, Kolodny examines what happened after 1837, when English translations of the two sagas became widely available and enormously popular in the United States. She assesses their impact on literature, immigration policy, and concepts of masculinity.
Kolodny considers what the sagas reveal about the Native peoples encountered by the Norse in Vinland around the year A.D. 1000, and she recovers Native American stories of first contacts with Europeans, including one that has never before been shared outside of Native communities. These stories contradict the dominant narrative of "first contact" between Europeans and the New World. Kolodny rethinks the lingering power of a mythic American Viking heritage and the long-standing debate over whether Leif Eiriksson or Christopher Columbus should be credited as the first discoverer. With this paradigm-shattering work, Kolodny shows what literary criticism can bring to historical and social scientific endeavors.