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Science and the Atlantic World in Early American Literary Studies



Although scientific literatures by British American colonists have not traditionally been included in studies of early American literature, recent work has begun to pay closer attention to the literary elements of natural, medical, and cartographic texts produced in the long 18th century. New approaches have expanded Eurocentric and nation-based paradigms by positioning colonial science in an imperial and Atlantic World context that focuses upon transatlantic exchanges between the British Americas and England. These studies have investigated colonists’ efforts to obtain credit for their scientific contributions in England and the strategies with which colonists resisted metropolitan biases regarding their knowledge. Studies of the literature of place show how natural histories, cartographies, and nature writing rendered the New World familiar, even while establishing colonists’ relationship to and possession of the land. Meanwhile, an emerging focus on anxieties regarding mental and physical degeneration, spurred by theories of America’s degrading influences, offers new directions for investigating colonial subjectivity and racial theories of difference. Finally, examining the various roles that Native Americans and New World Africans played in colonial encounters may facilitate new approaches to non-European contributions to colonial science.

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