Andrew Ferris, Princeton University
MCEAS Consortium Fellow
“American Histories in ‘Indian Country’: Colonial Historical Writing in Seventeenth Century English America”
My dissertation explores the writing of history in seventeenth century Anglo-America from Maine to the Caribbean. Historical narratives of settlement and contact were among the very first texts produced in the English colonies. But despite their cultural and historical centrality, the genre has been long neglected by literary historians. Settler historians were faced with a nearly impossible task: describing their fledgling communities’ place in this “New World” among the diverse Native populations of North America. Confronting profound linguistic, cultural, economic, and political differences that did not fit into their worldviews, early English settlers struggled to compose coherent historical accounts that made sense of events as they were unfolding. Through this struggle, they improvised new tropes, categories, and conventions, invoking old concepts—conspiracy theory, providence, ancient allusions, and theories of history—in order to explain and represent the new cultural and political problems they encountered in Anglo-America. And while these old concepts shaped the representation of Native people, Native people conversely reshaped these concepts. Through these literary and formal mediations, the genre of historical writing became a crucial site in which issues of cultural difference and communal identity were being worked out in the colonies.