Atlantic Matters (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 1998 semester seminar.

This seminar examined the confrontation between English men and women and the peoples and environment in America within the fluid, interconnected context of the early modern Atlantic world. Through examination of key texts from the period in the light of recent historical and literary scholarship, the seminar explored the ways in which peoples attempted to understand and manipulate the identities and social constructions of others. The effect produced by mixing people from Africa, Europe, and America raised questions in the minds of all parties about received notions of human society and history, such as the "naturalness" of gender roles, hierarchy, and religious belief. Early moderns believed in a reciprocal relationship between humans and their environment, and the seminar examined the attempts of English venturers to understand the American environment and to evolve ways of adapting to it without sacrificing their own cultural integrity. It also studied the motivations and tactics of those people who crossed cultural boundaries and fashioned identities within another culture. The seminar began with sixteenth-century documents and then took up a wide variety of seventeenth-century reports from all regions of America in which English people were active from the Caribbean to Newfoundland, including the tracts, letters, maps, and paintings of promoters, explorers, and colonists. A particular concern was to recover the voices of those who lacked access to writing.

Director: Karen Ordahl Kupperman is Professor of History at New York University. She is the author of Providence Island, 1630–1641: The Other Puritan Colony (1993), which won the Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association. She is also the author of Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony (1984) and Settling with the Indians: The Meeting of English and Indian Cultures in America, 1580–1640 (1980), in addition to numerous articles on colonization and the colonial experience.