As I write my first ever blog entry, I am also for the first time, exploring American literature to prior to 1880 for the first time. In the past I have studied modern works, various forms of poetry, novels, biographies, and memories, however, never before I have deeply explored the history and works behind the beginnings of American literature. I chose to take this class this semester because as I know that it is important to keep up with current literature, I think that it is also crucial to understand its beginnings and development over time. As an American, I feel that understanding literature to 1880 is a must.
The introduction to the course anthology titled was very interesting and effective. It gave a brief summary of history to 1750 (much of which I needed to be reminded of) while including a tremendous amount of information that I had never before known. The narrator’s voice keeps the pace of the text just right.
“American Before Columbus”
This section of the text accurately began by explaining that Europeans had little sense of the intricate history of the “New World,” and that this “New World” was actually ancient and only new to them (3).
I was interested to read about the earliest settlers in North America, the Paleo-Indians or Archaic Indians. Archaic Indians developed their own culture as they began to hunt and gather together, living as a nomadic tribe (6). As I read this section of the chapter, I wondered what it would be like to be the “earliest settler”? Today, we often model our behaviors after our parents, friends, or what we learn in school. Who did the Archaic Indians model their behavior after? Based on assumption, the Indians must have developed based on both instinct and experience, learning to survive day-by-day. Below is an image of what the first Paleo-Indians might have looked like:
“From its earliest history, the complex society that developed in North America was multilingual and culturally diverse” (8). American has always, even prior to 1750, been a country of tremendous diversity. Reading the history of American literature to 1750 in chapter helped me to develop an even deeper appreciation for the freedom that many individuals have in this country; with the entrepreneurship and desire to develop culturally diverse settlements, the first settlers set the stage for a multilingual and diverse nation that still exists today.
It is hard to imagine a time when written language was not yet developed, however, prior to 1750, “a crucial means of cultural transmission was the spoken word, as tribal customs, history, and traditions were passed down generation to generation through poems, songs, and stories” (9). Today, we communicate through means of both written and oral communication. Technological developments (like computers) have made it possible for individuals to communicate both verbally and through writing almost simultaneously.
“Christianity, Islam, and the Lure of Asia”
In the presence of diversity, there is always conflict. In the centuries following the year 1000, Europeans focused mainly on the Middle East and Asia and not on the undiscovered continents of the west. During this time, disagreements arose over the need for “global domination and control among competing cultures, especially between Christian countries of Europe and the Islamic nations of Africa and the Middle East” (11). People say that “history repeats itself,” and reading this chapter has reminded me of this expression. With new potential for discovery, individuals often fight for power, a seemingly vital driving force.
Europeans became fascinated with Asia because of the type of travel writing known as the “Wonders of the East” (11). Two popular books of this time include: The Travels of Marco Polo and Mandeville’s Travels which were both educational and entertaining to those who read them. Although the characters in Mandeville’s Travels are apparently ficticious, they are accepted as “factually narrative by most medieval readers, who were treated to descriptions of wonders” (12). While the texts weren’t necessarily factually based, they provided insight and evoked curiosity from readers. Below are images of the above books:
“Conquest and Colonization in the New World”
I found this section of the chapter particularly interesting as I learned the origin of the name of our country: “America.” Martin Waldseemuller believed that Amerigo Vespucci was the discoverer of what is now known as “America” and so, it was named after him. Many, however, believed that the nation should have been named “Columbus” after Christopher Columbus, but “America” stuck. Below is an image of Amerigo, the man after which our country is named:
While once overlooked, many sought after American land because of its gold and riches. During this brutal conquest and colonization time, disease and enslavement were introduced, killing much of the native population, “leaving in some places only a handful of survivors of those tribes whose history, names, and ancient cultures were virtually erased (14). It is sad to think that so much of our history has been lost due to brutality in the early days of settlement.
After the fall of Roanoke Island, Thomas Hariot stated, “‘Why may wee not then looke for in good hope from the inner parts of more and greater plentie, as well as of other things, as of those which wee have alreadie discovered?’” (18). Shortly after, in 1607, the English established a permanent settlement at Jamestown. Below is an image of the settlement:
“The Protestant Reformation and the Puritan ‘Errand into the Wilderness’”
As the English colonization was driven by Protestant Reformation, the literate and middle class challenged the Catholic Church and its beliefs. The Bible, a printed text, was a key component of disputes during this time. This book served as a literal piece of evidence and text for supporting arguments as it was fully printed in 1534 (19).
With the Great Migration in 1630 and further colonization of America, by 1660 there were over 33,000 colonists living in New England (22). This statistic helped me to realize that America’s colonization really did happen rather quickly. The riches in America were enticing and encouraged colonists to quickly settle and begin a new life.
“Literature and Cultural Diversity in Colonial America”
As soon as written literature was developed, it began to progress and become popular very quickly. The printing press, in 1638, increased print culture tremendously and by 1700, the publication of books and pamphlets was a rapidly growing business (23). Today, the print culture in America continues to thrive. I have noticed, however, that much of print culture is now being included in technology and Internet resources. It will be interesting to notice the changes that print culture goes through over time. The Kindle (illustrated below), is an example of a form of technology that has adapted to allow consumers to compile books onto one technological device:
Byrd believed that, “the colonies were less a single, unified entity than a group of diverse, loosely associated provinces” and that “those colonies together constituted only part of the rich and complex tapestry formed by the colonial experience in North America” (26-27). In 1750 and still today, North America has proven itself an intricate and culturally diverse nation.