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Chapter 2 - Synchronic and Diachronic

Race in Early American Literatures

from Part I - Fractured Foundations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 May 2022

John Ernest
Affiliation:
University of Delaware
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Summary

This essay ponders how scholars can both pay attention to the specificities of racial formation in any period of what is sometimes called “American” history and also think about race at any time of that history as of our own contemporary moment. It begins by analyzing how the idea of transformable race informs late eighteenth-century American literature and how scholars have expanded our study of natural historical discourses in early America. After outlining drawbacks to this kind of tight historical focus, the essay engages how we might think about race in the antebellum United States more diachronically, as more of a piece with our own present moment. Highlighting the work of writers, artists, and scholars who are thinking about the moment of slavery and settler colonialism as our own moment, the essay turns to considering the work of William Apess alongside contemporary work of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to enact sovereignty and to protect their land and, thus, to conjecture about what we might learn when we read what we generally call “early American literature” as literature both of its own time and our own.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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