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Oriental Shadows
The Presence of the East in Early American Literature
Jim Egan
The Ohio State University Press, 2011

Through the use of several iconic early American authors (Anne Bradstreet, James Kirkpatrick, Benjamin Franklin, and Edgar Allan Poe), Jim Egan’s Oriental Shadows: The Presence of the East in Early American Literature explores the presence of “the East” in American writing.

The specter of the East haunted the literature of colonial British America and the new United States, from the earliest promotional pamphlets to the most aesthetically sophisticated works of art of the American Renaissance. Figures of Persia, China, Arabia, and other Oriental people, places, and things played crucial roles in many British American literary works, serving as key images in early American writers’ efforts to demonstrate that early American culture could match—and perhaps even surpass—European standards of refinement. These writers offered the East as a solution to America’s perceived inferior civilized status by suggesting that America become more civilized not by becoming more European but instead by adopting aesthetic styles and standards long associated with an East cast as superior aesthetically to both America and Europe.

In bringing to light this largely overlooked archive of images within the American literary canon, Oriental Shadows suggests that the East played a key role in the emergence of a distinctively American literary tradition and, further, that early American identity was born as much from figures of the East as it was from the colonists’ encounters with the frontier.

front cover of The Part and the Whole in Early American Literature, Print Culture, and Art
The Part and the Whole in Early American Literature, Print Culture, and Art
Matthew Pethers
Bucknell University Press, 2024

The essays in this pathbreaking collection consider the significance of varied early American fragmentary genres and practices—from diaries and poetry, to almanacs and commonplace books, to sermons and lists, to Indigenous ruins and other material shards and fragments—often overlooked by critics in a scholarly privileging of the “whole.” Contributors from literary studies, book history, and visual culture discuss a host of canonical and non-canonical figures, from Edward Taylor and Washington Irving to Mary Rowlandson and Sarah Kemble Knight, offering insight into the many intellectual, ideological, and material variations of “form” that populated the early American cultural landscape. As these essays reveal, the casting of the fragmentary as aesthetically eccentric or incomplete was a way of reckoning with concerns about the related fragmentation of nation, society, and self. For a contemporary audience, they offer new ways to think about the inevitable gaps and absences in our cultural and historical archive.


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Queequeg's Coffin
Indigenous Literacies and Early American Literature
Birgit Brander Rasmussen
Duke University Press, 2012
The encounter between European and native peoples in the Americas is often portrayed as a conflict between literate civilization and illiterate savagery. That perception ignores the many indigenous forms of writing that were not alphabet-based, such as Mayan pictoglyphs, Iroquois wampum, Ojibwe birch-bark scrolls, and Incan quipus. Queequeg's Coffin offers a new definition of writing that comprehends the dazzling diversity of literature in the Americas before and after European arrivals. This groundbreaking study recovers previously overlooked moments of textual reciprocity in the colonial sphere, from a 1645 French-Haudenosaunee Peace Council to Herman Melville's youthful encounters with Polynesian hieroglyphics.

By recovering the literatures and textual practices that were indigenous to the Americas, Birgit Brander Rasmussen reimagines the colonial conflict as one organized by alternative but equally rich forms of literacy. From central Mexico to the northeastern shores of North America, in the Andes and across the American continents, indigenous peoples and European newcomers engaged each other in dialogues about ways of writing and recording knowledge. In Queequeg's Coffin, such exchanges become the foundation for a new kind of early American literary studies.


front cover of A Road Course in Early American Literature
A Road Course in Early American Literature
Travel and Teaching from Atzlán to Amherst
Thomas Hallock
University of Alabama Press, 2021
A Road Course in Early American Literature: Travel and Teaching from Atzlán to Amherst explores a two-part question: what does travel teach us about literature, and how can reading guide us to a deeper understanding of place and identity? Thomas Hallock charts a teacher’s journey to answering these questions, framing personal experiences around the continued need for a survey course covering early American literature up to the mid-nineteenth century.
Hallock approaches literary study from the overlapping perspectives of pedagogue, scholar, unrepentant tourist, husband, father, friend, and son. Building on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s premise that there is “creative reading as well as creative writing,” Hallock turns to the vibrant and accessible tradition of American travel writing, employing the form of biblio-memoir to bridge the impasse between public and academic discourse and reintroduce the dynamic field of early American literature to wider audiences.
Hallock’s own road course begins and ends at the Lowcountry of Georgia and South Carolina, following a circular structure of reflection. He weaves his journey through a wide swath of American literatures and authors: from Native American and African American oral traditions, to Wheatley and Equiano, through Emerson, Poe, and Dickinson, among others. A series of longer, place-oriented narratives explore familiar and lesser-known literary works from the sixteenth-century invasion of Florida through the Mexican War of 1846–1848 and the American Civil War. Shorter chapters bridge the book’s central themes—the mapping of cognitive and physical space, our personal stake in reading, the tensions that follow earlier acts of erasure, and the impossibility of ever fully shutting out the past.
Exploring complex cultural histories and contemporary landscapes filled with ghosts and new voices, this volume draws inspiration from a tradition of travel, place-oriented, and literature-based works ranging from William Carlos Williams’s In the American Grain and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road to Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Wendy Lesser’s Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books, and Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch.
An accompanying bibliographic essay is periodically updated and available at Hallock’s website:

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Susanna Rowson
Sentimental Prophet of Early American Literature
Steven Epley
Northwestern University Press, 2016
Susanna Rowson: Sentimental Prophet of Early American Literature opens the early American writer’s works to new, provocative interpretations based on the theory that her responses to social issues incorporate notions of righteousness, justice, accountability, and loyalty drawn from prophets in the Hebrew Bible. Steven Epley argues that Rowson’s sentimentalism—a literary mode that portrays characters undergoing strong emotions and evokes similar responses from readers—reflects the rhetorical style of the Bible’s first prophet, Moses, and its understanding of the “heart” not just as a metaphor for human kindness and tenderness but also as a source of wickedness. Epley relocates the widespread introduction of Jewish values into American discourse from the height of Jewish immigration (roughly 1890 to 1940) to the early republic, given Rowson’s vast audience and influence on American letters. Her novel Charlotte Temple outsold every other American work of fiction until Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the 1850s.

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