One hundred years after the Spanish Conquest of Central America, English nobles, merchants, and religious separatists belatedly set out to build their own colonies in North America. Explorers and promoters wrote to celebrate an empire they had yet to create. But the English colonial experience in North America turned out quite differently than that of the Spanish. The English struggled to define their territory in opposition to claims made by the Spanish, the French, and the Dutch. Like these other Europeans, the English were obliged to conquer or compete with the many Indian tribes of the Northeast. Parts of English claims were settled by fringe religious groups like Puritans and Quakers, who arrived with their own distinctive visions of empire and settlement. By studying writings about early North America, we will attempt to recover the wide variety of English understandings of the North American colonial world. We will also examine Native points of view about English colonists and consider the difficulties of this endeavor. The course will extend from the seventeenth century into the early nineteenth, as we read "American" writers' efforts to interpret the North American colonial past.
Readings may include John Smith's tales of Pocahontas; Shakespeare's The Tempest; missionary narratives; the captivities of Mary Rowlandson and Mary Jemison; Henry Hudson; narratives of King Philip's War; narratives by Puritans, slaves, and Natives; and a novel by James Fenimore Cooper.