Texts of Imagination and Empire: The Founding of Jamestown in its Atlantic Context

Directed by Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Professor of History at New York University

June 19 through July 28, 2000

STC 22790: John Smith. The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles…

This NEH Summer Institute for College and University Faculty looks ahead to the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown in 1607 and the beginning of successful English colonization in America. But rather than taking a purely celebratory stance and seeing the English presence as somehow unique in American history, we will seek to place that venture in the context of contemporaneous French and Spanish efforts along America's east coast and within the Atlantic context in which all such enterprises were undertaken. The English who were conscious of their location on the margins of Europe---the "Suburbs of the old world" as John Donne wrote-now found themselves poised to look outward as Europe reoriented toward the west. Those who hoped that American exploits would pull their nation into the ranks ofthe leading European nations were also interested in Africa and the eastern Mediterranean region. The Powhatans among whom the first colonists settled had had extensive contact with Europeans before 1607 and brought their own understanding of Atlantic realities to this new relationship. Thus, the institute's premise is that we cannot understand what Jamestown should mean to us without looking at the entire Atlantic context in which it began and struggled through its early years.

We intend to explore the kinds of assumptions and expectations that European promoters and migrants brought to the business of colonization, including their ideas about other peoples, their notions of the engines of economic growth, and their conception of how society is constituted and how it could be replicated in a new setting. We will also explore the assumptions on which the Powhatans and other coastal Algonquians acted in allowing the first settlers to become established. The institute will consider the range of options open to Africans in this early period when the institution of slavery was coming into being in English colonies, and the ways in which they adapted their own traditions in unanticipated circumstances.                                                                                                                                                

Source Call No. STC 18963.3: The first five bookes of Ovids Metamorphosis

In order to accomplish this exploration, the faculty of the institute includes literary scholars, historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists, and the readings draw on a mix of disciplinary approaches and modes of scholarly analysis. The principal focus of the meetings will be on the primary sources of the period. We will look at familiar texts such as Sir Thomas More's Utopia and Captain John Smith's Generall Historie but also at other less well known sources such as John Pory's translation of Leo Africanus's A Geographical Historie of Africa (London, 1600). Encompassing Shakespeare's time as it does, the early period of colonization is illuminated by the Folger's vast collection of early printed and manuscript materials. Participants will work with documents in their first printed versions at the Folger Library, with the remains of the built and archaeological record in Jamestown itself, and with a range of other "primary" materials available on academic and institutional websites. In the course of the institute, participants will create a multifaceted web site with such features as a set of images culled from the Folger's collections, links to documents and other teaching and research materials on the web, and suggested syllabi and bibliographies for undergraduate courses.                                                                                                                                                

Materials and Products

The syllabus is available here.

While the website is no longer supported, it has been archived: Institute Website: Texts of Imagination and Empire: The Founding of Jamestown in its Atlantic Context

A PDF of the website's pages with the participants' interpretive essays.

A PDF of the original promotional flyer.

Resulting Publication

Appelbaum, Robert and John Wood Sweet. Envisioning an English Empire. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. F234.J3 J3255 2005

Source Call No. STC 22790c.2: The generall historie of Virginia …


(All affiliations are as of the program's date)

Robert Appelbaum, Postdoctoral fellow in English at the University of San Diego

Rebecca Ann Bach, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alabama, Birmingham

Pompa Banerjee, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Colorado, Denver

Lisa A. Blansett, Assistant Professor of English at Florida International University

Harvey W. DuMarce, Dean of Instruction and English Instructor at the Sisseton Wahpeton Community College

Ellen Eslinger, Associate Professor of History at DePaul University in Chicago

Maria Franklin, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

G. Curtis Gaul, Supervisory Park Ranger at the Colonial National Historical Park of Jamestown

Eric J. Griffin, Assistant Professor of English at Millsaps College

Andrew T. Harris, Assistant Professor of History at Bridgewater State College

Constance Jordan, Professor of English at Claremont Graduate University

Karen Paar, Research Assistant Professor at the Institute of Southern Studies and the Historian for the Santa Elena project at the University of South Carolina

Phyllis Peres, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Maryland

Emily Rose, Visiting Fellow at New Hall, Cambridge (1999-2000)

Crandall Shifflett, Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies at Virginia Tech

John Wood Sweet, Assistant Professor of History at The Catholic University of America

http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/j99272: A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia…


(All affiliations are as of the program's date)

James Axtell, Kenan Professor of Humanities, College of William and Mary

Emily C. Bartels, Associate Professor of English, Rutgers University

Ira Berlin, Distinguished University Professor of History, University of Maryland

Cary Carson, Vice-President for Research, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Dominique Deslandres, Professor of History, University of Montreal

Andrew Hadfield, Professor of English, University of Wales, Aberystwyth

James Horn, Saunders Director, International Center for Jefferson Studies, Monticello

William M. Kelso, Director of Archeology, Jamestown Rediscover, Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities

Jane Landers, Assistant Professor of History, Vanderbilt University

Barbara Mowat, Chair Academic Programs, Folger Shakespeare Library

John Murrin, Professor of History, Princeton University

Helen C. Rountree, Professor of Anthropology, Old Dominion University

David Harris Sacks, Professor of History and Humanities, Reed College

Ian Smith, Assistant Professor of English, Lafayette College

Walter Woodward, Director of Education Programs, Plimoth Plantation

Source Call No. STC 22790: The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles…

Website Production

Martha Fay, Designer

Julie Ainsworth, Folger photography

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Senior Editor

Kathleen Lynch, Editor

Carol Brobeck, Managing Editor

Jerry Passannante, Research Assistant

Folger Institute Staff

Barbara Mowat, Chair

Kathleen Lynch, Executive Director

Owen Williams, Program Administrator

Carol Brobeck, Program Coordinator

Lisa Meyers, Program Assistant

Julie Will, Intern   

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

Hosted by the Folger Shakespeare Library. For more information about current summer seminars, please visit the National Endowment for the Humanities website.