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

NEH Summer Institute

Center for Shakespeare Studies

June 19 through July 28 2000

Institute Website (Archived): Website saved as PDF

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

This institute 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.                                                                                                                                                

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.                                                                                                                                                

Proposed Schedule and Faculty                                                                                                                                                

"Texts of Imagination and Empire: The Founding of Jamestown in its Atlantic Context" will meet four afternoons a week, from Monday through Thursday (with the exception of the week of the 4th of July, when we will be in session on Friday), for the six weeks of 19 June through 28 July 2000. In the mornings, participants will be free to read in the Library or to meet informally with the faculty or their colleagues in the program. Daily tea breaks and occasional receptions will allow for conversation to continue in a more relaxed atmosphere that includes other scholars in residence at the Folger. On some evenings, the Folger will offer films dealing with issues arising from the reading.                                                                                                                                                

The average week will include a sequence of presentations by Professor Kuppennan and the consulting faculty members, group discussions of required primary texts and archival materials, and oral reports by participants. Professor Kupperman will usually begin the week by reviewing the readings in primary and secondary sources and framing the discussion for the week. The second and third sessions of each week will feature the designated visiting faculty. On some days the period after tea will be used for participant presentations of research, pedagogical applications, or website analyses. The emphasis throughout will be on discussion and exchange.                                                                                                                                                


Week One (19 - 23 June): English Culture on the Eve of Colonization                                                                                                                                                

Week Two (26 - 30 June): Early Tentative Colonial Ventures                                                                                                                                                

Week Three (3 - 7 July): Colonies Around the North Atlantic Rim                                                                                                                                                

Week Four (10 - 14 July): Tracks on the Land                                                                                                                                                

Week Five (17 - 21 July): Crawling Toward Success                                                                                                                                                

Week Six (24 - 28 July): Stability and Extension                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

RESULTING PUBLICATIONS                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

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