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«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»

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Customary Practice: The Colonial Transformation of

European Concepts of Collective Identity, 1580-1724


Robert Hilliker

M. A., Brown University, 2003

B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000


Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement

For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

In the Department of Comparative Literature

At Brown University

May 2008

© Copyright 2007 by Robert Hilliker.

This dissertation by Robert Hilliker is accepted in its present form

by the Department of Comparative Literature as satisfying the dissertation requirement for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Date__________ _____________________________

James Egan, Advisor Recommended to the Graduate Council Date__________ _____________________________

Karen Newman, Reader Date__________ _____________________________

Virginia Krause, Reader Approved by the Graduate Council Date__________ _____________________________

Sheila Bonde, Dean of the Graduate School iii VITA Robert Hilliker was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on September 7, 1978.

He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree with Honours in English and a Minor in Russian from the University of British Columbia in April 2000. He entered the doctoral program in Comparative Literature at Brown University in September 2000 and received his Master of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown in May 2003.

During his time at Brown he has received several honors, including the Morgan Edwards Dissertation Fellowship from the Graduate School at Brown, the Albert Cook Memorial Prize for best comparative essay from the Department of Comparative Literature, and the J. M. Stuart Fellowship from the John Carter Brown Library. He has also taught a number of courses in Comparative Literature at Brown, both as a Teaching Assistant and as an Instructor for the Brown Summer Studies program, in addition to having been selected as a Teaching Assistant for a first-year seminar offered as part of the Values Initiative.

An article of his entitled “Engendering Identity: The Discourse of Familial Education in Anne Bradstreet and Marie de l’Incarnation” will appear in the Fall 2007 issue of Early American Literature.



Over the course of my life there have been any number of people and institutions that have made it possible for me to reach this point. Pride of place belongs to my parents, Gordon and Ann, for instilling in me the value and pleasure of reading. From among the many teachers and professors who nurtured my talents for writing and literary interpretation, I would like to single out Ian McKay, who taught me to really parse a sentence, Bill New, who encouraged me to always push my ideas further and challenge my assumptions, and Susanna Egan, who not only made sure that I remembered to “trim the fat” before turning in my work but showed me that it is possible to be an academic and lead a balanced life.

Since arriving at Brown, I have accumulated more debts than I can possibly enumerate here, but I feel compelled to make special mention of several people who have taken me into their trust and shown complete faith in my abilities in all arenas of life: Bob Scholes, Bev Ehrich, Florence Doksansky, and Ed Ahearn. I am likewise grateful for the varied forms of support that I have received from the John Carter Brown Library, the Renaissance and Early Modern Studies Group, The Graduate School, and the Department of Comparative Literature.

–  –  –

Newman, and Virginia Krause for their hard work on my behalf. The perspicacity of their comments show that they have read my work with my care; the following dissertation is much the better for it. As my advisor, Jim also deserves recognition for shoring up my faith in my own abilities, intellectual and otherwise, at those moments when I most needed it.

Finally, I want to thank the individual who has been the most important single factor in my being able to complete this work, and who can justly claim more credit for who I am as a person than anyone except myself and my parents. Renée has done more to further my professionalization than anyone else, from talking with me about how to be a better teacher to casting a critical eye over my job application materials, but, most importantly, by being a model professional herself. She has also made me a happier and more fulfilled person, as has our son, Sasha.

–  –  –

Introduction……………………………………………………………………… 1 Uncustomary Practice: Reframing American Literary Studies Chapter One…………………………………………………………………… 40 Imperial Masques, Alien Climes: The Ethnographic Performance of National Identity Chapter Two…………………………………………………………………… 91 Engendered Nations: Reproducing Identity through Education Chapter Three…………………………………………………………………… 137 All My Friends and International Relations: Custom, Kinship, and the State of Nature Chapter Four…………………………………………………………………… 183 Writing a New New World: Dividing History from Ethnography Epilogue………………………………………………………………………… 223 Letters from an American Farmer, Notes Towards a Global “Culture” Works Cited…………………………………………………………………… 237

–  –  –

At a time when transnational migration and decolonization, multinational capitalism and neocolonialism have steadily been challenging the ethnic, demographic, political, and economic bases of modern national borders, histories, and canons, the academic disciplines have had to rethink not only their conventional boundaries but also their very epistemological foundations. … A comparative colonial American studies might begin, then, by investigating the patterns in the multiplicities of rhetorical and discursive situations that colonial Americas offer with the ultimate aim of formulating a poetics of colonial American writing that allows us to apprehend the colonial text in more interesting ways than as the precursor to nineteenth-century national literatures or as the raw material for contemporary European literary history.

– Ralph Bauer, “Further Reflections on the Tucson Summit” (281, 304).

For some time now there has been a sense that the mainstream critical tradition of American literary history, represented most particularly by the work of Sacvan Bercovitch, is no longer adequate to the complexity of its subject. As early as 1979, in a review of Bercovitch’s The American Jeremiad, Nina Baym expresses a deep concern about his insistence on reading American literature as having a continuous development from its Puritan origins to the canonical authors of the nineteenth century, as well as the emphasis he places on a broad ideological consensus rooted in the idea of America represented in and by this body of literature. As she notes, “[l]iterary scholars and historians are increasingly uncomfortable and dissatisfied with the consensus approach, which may well be indispensable to Bercovitch’s work” (350). This is echoed in another contemporary review, where Stephen Stein writes that “the idea that the ‘anti-jeremiad,’ constructed by those who rejected the symbol of America, can always be inverted to become yet another statement of consensus seems painfully strained” (1142, citing Bercovitch American Jeremiad 191). What troubles Baym in particular about Bercovitch’s slighting of dissent is a sense that this approach simply affirms the marginalization of those groups who have had the most cause to dissent: women, African-Americans, Native Americans, and basically everybody else who is not a white male, preferably a Protestant of Anglo-Saxon stock.

In the years since The American Jeremiad appeared, early American literary studies have indeed gone far in the direction Baym envisions, with new anthologies (beginning with the first Heath Anthology of American Literature in 1993) and any number of journal articles and books devoted to considering the subjects of race, gender, ethnicity, and nationality in early American letters and to recovering the writings of these marginalized groups in order to restore them to their rightful place in the literary history of the United States, which has resulted in a body of scholarship that is generally and loosely grouped under the rubric of multicultural or multiculturalist early American studies. It has also sought to reach beyond the geographic boundaries of the United States themselves, both into the other Americas and across the ocean to consider transatlantic continuities. As Ralph Bauer notes, “In Spanish America, early American literary scholarship has taken a similar trajectory from nationalist particularism to transatlantic cosmopolitanism” (285).

Even Bercovitch, in his Cambridge History of American Literature (co-edited with Cyrus Patell), adopts a multiculturalist perspective on American literary history.

Yet, in a number of articles addressing the state of the field critics from Annette Kolodny, Leonard Tennenhouse, and R. C. DeProspo have continued to suggest that Bercovitch’s legacy has been to narrow our perspective on American literature by insisting on historical continuity and ideological consensus as its key attributes.1 As Philip Gura states in “Early American Literature at the New Century,” Bercovitch’s work “remains a primer in our field” (603), though he also notes that it is ceding ground to the work of scholars like Michelle Burnham who have cleared the way for us to think about “different kind[s] of continuity” and “awakened us to new questions about early American texts” (608), namely questions about the history of the book in the Americas, about the transatlantic dynamics of American literary history, about the role of manuscript circulation in early American society, about the continuities within particular literary genres, and, finally, about the place of the “non-US” Americas in American literary history. The last frontier, as it appears to Gura, is to open the field to writings in languages other than English, recasting “American literature as a sub-field of Comparative Literature” (610).

The comparative approach to early American literary studies has rapidly been gaining traction, as evidenced by books by Walter Mignolo, Gordon Sayre, Ralph Bauer, and, See Kolodny’s “Letting Go Our Grand Obsessions: Notes Towards a New Literary History of the American Frontiers”; Tennenhouse’s “American literary history in the age of critical theory and multiculturalism”; and DeProspo’s “Marginalizing Early American Literature.” most recently, Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra that offer extended comparative analyses of Anglo-American texts and those of the French and Spanish Americas.2 Bauer has also done a great deal to foment this study by organizing the Anglo and Ibero-Americanist Summit in Tucson in 2002, upon which he reflects in the epigraph above, and its successors, including “Beyond American Studies: An Interamerican Encounter,” which brought together early Americanists from around the globe who presented not only on English and Spanish colonial writings, but those in French, Portuguese, German, Dutch, and Latin. Despite this gathering momentum, Bercovitch’s vision of American literary history still persists, presenting a challenge in his Rites of Assent and in an essay, “Discovering America: A Cross-Cultural Perspective,” adapted from that book, which argue that recent developments in the field have not displaced his vision of the overarching continuity of American literature from its origins among the Puritans to the present day, even as he recognizes that there is greater dissensus in the field than there has perhaps been at any point before.

That Bercovitch should identify such a dissensus, however, is in fact evidence of the health of comparative early American studies, since, as Bauer suggests, we “must remain respectful of these [regional] differences and resist assimilating them too quickly into historical and philosophical teleologies, as has happened all too often in the PanAmericanism of the past” (296-297). Where Bauer highlights regional difference, Gura focuses on temporal difference, asserting that “we should marvel at how much there still See Mignolo’s The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization; Sayre’s Les Sauvages Américains: Representations of Native Americans in French and English Colonial Literature; Bauer’s The Cultural Geography of Colonial American Literatures: Empire, Travel, Modernity;

and Cañizares-Esguerra’s Puritan Conquistadors: Iberianizing the Atlantic, 1550-1700.

is to learn from literature about the past’s ‘otherness’” (620). Taken together, Bauer and Gura would seem to offer a coherent alternative to Bercovitch’s paradigm of ideological consensus and historical continuity: why then do scholars continue to agonize about his influence on the field? I would suggest that it is precisely because they are conscious that his paradigm, in offering a lucid, coherent, and strictly delimited idea of America and American literary history that purports to be universal, offers a comforting totality that cannot (or at least cannot yet) be constructed out of the great variety of multiculturalist and comparative studies that have been done to this point. This consciousness is reflected, I believe, most particularly in our continuing use of culture as a key term of analysis in early American literary studies.

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