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Ideology of superior identity in John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity

In his sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity” aboard Arbella, John Winthrop introduces rhetorical grounds for the establishment of European colonies in the New World which would later emerge as the United States of America. For him and his Puritan assembly, this establishment was a holy, sacred mission combining the political and the religious with a self-conferred superiority of chosen people who reserve the historical right as well as the divine to the new lands. The Christian colony is presented and emphasized as one body which should be bonded with Christian love and charity. As this idea coheres the community together, it also lays out rules for strict conformity to be maintained even by coercion. The contradictions are apparent; the Puritans escaped from England because they found its religious laws coercive but they demanded conformity to their ideology. This rhetoric also established their identity as one kind of people different from the rest of the world. The identity became more pronounced in the face of threat from the outside, that is the Native Americans.

His famous metaphor of New England colony as “a city upon a hill,” suggests the superiority of the Europeans because of their identity as belonging to a particular church and race. Explicit is the idea that the Europeans have the divine right to colonize and rule others whom they consider inferior. Every humanly enterprise, colonization, trade, war, are guided by their theocracy. They had the same “special commission” that God gave to Saul to destroy Amaleck in the Old Testament. Hence, the Native people were heathens who deserved destruction and their land was the promised land reserved divinely for the chosen ones. Moreover of all the European colonies in North America, only theirs was the select, of Biblical importance on which people look for guidance. This idea is an extension of European nationalism which confers superiority on a particular nation simply by virtue of belonging.

Winthrop’s sermon has all the elements for the making of the ideology of colonialism, racism and nationalism which still informs American politics especially in America’s role as the example of democracy and freedom to the whole world.

The idea of predestination which Winthrop presents by explaining that the inequality in society is part of God’s plan where the rich learn to be charitable and the poor to be patient developed into the idea that America has the right to the riches of the world. Winthrop himself was an entrepreneur seeking wealth in the colonies and it was necessary to emphasize the importance of trade in the light of divine duty so that each person of one Christian body has the right to make wealth and then contribute it the public good as charity and to those who are less fortunate. Hard-work was a must for a fledgling society and hence, even the commonplace tasks of clearing land and building homes and barns become part of service to god. He makes his pronouncements binding by stating that the success of the colony depended on their unity and conformity. Any deviation from the injunctions he exhorts upon would spell destruction because it would be a deviance from the right path inviting damnation.

As the sermon addresses only the select few that comprised Winthrop’s group, without uttering any word he establishes that Native Americans did not merit any mention and they could be ignored as non-existent because they were enemies of their god and hence bereft of any rights. Civil rights ensued from divine rights which depended on certain group identity. Hence, religiosity, identity, and nationalism are tied together to create the ideology for a new nation.

Work Cited

Winthrop, J. “A Modell of Christian Charity.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter. Lexington, MA: DC Heath and Company, 1990. 191-199. Print.


The Ideology of Conquest, Colonialism and Nation-building in Early America

In The Invasion of America, Francis Jennings joins the historiographical movement of indicting the Europeans for the depopulation of the Indian peoples in North America, seizing their lands deceitfully, inflicting wars, and destroying their culture. I argue with Jennings that the concept of America as a wilderness was a myth constructed by Europeans who were the early colonizers and whose belief in their divine superiority as Christians as opposed to the inferiority of the heathens would later create the divide between the whites and the coloreds. The earliest English colonizers operated on certain beliefs they brought from Europe, prominent among them was their religious leanings through which they perceived their presence in the New World and the inhabitants of that world. However, they would not take into account the rightful place of the indigenous people because they have been habituated to dehumanizing all those who differed from them. The same ideals provided them the basis for the creation of a new nation and hence, America was founded on fallacious beliefs which Jennings calls myths and enumerates them in detail.

Jennings lists European ideologies that provided the thought for the colonial enterprise and racial discrimination of the Indians. He first names the crusader ideology because the Europeans tended to act on the same ideas and institutions they knew at home (3) and the ideology of crusade was deep-rooted and fresh in their minds. According to this ideology their enemies were also the enemies of the Crusaders’ god and so outside of the protection of the moral law applicable to that god’s devotees (6). Similarly, Anthony Pagden writes that European Atlantic ideologies were fundamentally informed by medieval perceptions of Christian universal supremacy and classical theories of empire.

Then there was the myth of the virgin land which Jennings calls “widow land,” a claim he supports by furnishing records to demonstrate that Indians tilled their lands and even provided food to the Europeans because they could produce surplus of it. However, the Europeans created and spread the idea that the Indians roamed the land and not inhabited it. This falsity  generated and then standardized the ideology of virgin lands, idle and open for seizure by those who would cultivate them. By usurping Indian lands, and in many cases putting them to misuse, they made made the land barren. Thus, the land was not virgin when the Europeans arrived but “widowed” by their actions (30).

The Europeans believed in proselytizing the Indians and never tried to learn anything from them because of their belief of self-superiority. This thought led to many problems that they and the Indians had to face. They understood that they were transplanting themselves in the New World while Jennings argues that this is an erroneous belief because it is not possible for any society to transplant itself from one place and time to another. Every society develops through the process of acculturation which was also the case with the Europeans who settled in America.

David Abernathy surveys the European colonial expansion and emphasizes that three specific ideologies—the development of the nation-state, new expansionist economics, and proselytizing religion—resulted in the rise of European colonialism of America and elsewhere and the same ideologies became the cause of the fall of their imperialism because of their fallacious stance.

Works Cited

Abernathy, David B. The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires, 1415–1980. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001. Print.

Jennings, Francis. The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, And the Cant of Conquest. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975. Print.

Pagden, Anthony. Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain, and France, c. 1500–c. 1800. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995. Print.

Reflective Essay on a Set of Digital Databases

The following databases provide varied online resources on American and early American literature and history.

1. nationalhumanitiescenter.org

National Humanities Center is a huge and comprehensive resource for studies in humanities. It presents America in Class which has “primary and secondary resources, online seminars, and lessons for history and literature teachers” and is “designed to promote the analytical skills called for in the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and literacy in history and social studies.” It makes available databases for “identifying and evaluating textual evidence, determining central ideas, understanding the meanings of words, comprehending the structure of a text, recognizing an author’s point of view, and interpreting content presented in diverse media, including visual images.”

Students and teachers of American literature can access a cornucopia of texts, bibliography, newspapers, images, letters, deeds, wills, links to relevant sites, and a number of items concerning American history from the 16th century to the present times. Students can take a virtual class and participate in free Online Seminars. For example, 2013 Fall schedule for seminar includes topics on Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Edgar Allen Poe, and others.

Its Toolbox Library, TeacherServe, and The Library are of immense value to those studying American literature and history.

2. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/

America’s Story from America’s Library is presented by The Library of Congress. An easily accessible and engaging website about American history from 1492 to present day, it categorizes major historical periods with further subdivisions on particular events and people. For example: Colonial America (1492-1763) lists vast topics relevant to those times. This is the most relevant feature to scholars of American literature and history.

The site has five main headings with subdivisions: 1. Meet Amazing Americans (Leaders & Statesmen, U.S. Presidents, Activists & Reformers, etc.) 2. Jump Back in Time (a timeline of American history from 1492 to present day and other stories about different events and people in American history.) There are interesting pictures such as the church in which Patrick Henry declared: Give me liberty or give me death, petition for bail from accused witches in the Salem witch trials of 1692, portrait of Pocahontas in European garb, etc., 3. Explore the States, 4. Join America at Play (America’s pastimes, sports and hobbies), 5. See, Hear and Sing (movies, music, songs, and tunes from America’s past).

The lists are not comprehensive, for example, not all presidents are listed. Even then a site managed by the government should be more inclusive of native Indians of whom only Pocahontas is mentioned under the category of Leaders & Statesmen.

3. http://www.ushistory.org/us/

U.S. History: Pre Columbian to the New Millennium is owned by the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia founded in 1942. It neatly chronicles American history from the eve of British Colonization to the present times describing Native American society and also as they existed before the British arrived. A number of historians are listed on the page. Students can chat with them and ask questions on American history. Its links to other relevant sites are discoveries into valuable online resources. Readers can suggest their own links and leave their comments.

Its link to Virtual Jamestown and the Virginia Experiment has the Virtual Jamestown Archive, a digital research, teaching and learning project that investigates the heritage of the Jamestown settlement. Its objective is to initiate a national dialogue on the occasion of the four century anniversary observance in 2007 of the founding of the Jamestown colony. This resource is the result of collaboration between University of Virginia’s Virginia Tech and the Virginia Center for Digital History brought about by a large grant in 1999 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It’s a highly engaging and interesting site where one can use Google Earth to view Jamestown as it was.

4. http://www.nativetech.org/

Native Tech: Native American Technology and Art is an online educational resource for “indigenous ethno-technology focusing on the arts of Eastern Woodland Indian Peoples, providing historical & contemporary background with instructional how-to’s & references.” In affiliation with Amazon, NativeTech’s Bookpages compiles in one area all the separate bibliographies with a listing of the range of books cited in NativeTech’s articles. Many of these articles are researched using museum and archaeological collections, and published literature as well as personal communication with modern Native Americans. There is educational information about the use of these materials by Native Americans with a detailed explanation of the history and development of Native American technologies. “NativeTech hopes to show both change and continuity from pre-contact times to the present” and is committed “to revising the term ‘primitive’ with respect to peoples’ perceptions of Native American technology and art.”

The website features a series on scenes from Native Indian life also available in a book form named Woodland Windows: Seventeenth Century Native American Lifeways in Northeastern North America.

One can also order Indian handmade crafts on this website.

5. http://mith.umd.edu//eada/

The Early Americas Digital Archive (EADA) is a digital anthology of texts and links to texts originally written in or about the Americas from 1492 to approximately 1820. It is published and maintained by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) and is available to the public for research and teaching purposes. The website can be of special interest to those engaged in digital humanities project for it has been set as a long-term and inter-disciplinary project committed to exploring the connection between traditional humanities research and digital technologies. Scholars from all disciplines are invited to submit their editions of early American texts for publication. Its Gateway page provides electronic texts by early American authors listed in alphabetical order.

6. http://oieahc.wm.edu/

Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture provides databases for study in early American literature. Its main feature is announcements about conferences and the link to William and Mary Quarterly journal as it is sponsored by The College of William and Mary and The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation established the Institute of Early American History and Culture in 1943 and sponsor its work. It is also a platform for getting published one’s work in the relevant area.

The Ideology of British Colonialism of America and the Development of the Ideology of Nationalism in Early America

The following is an annotated bibliography of article collection on the topic of ideology of British colonialism of America and the development of the ideology of nationalism in early America. The following articles provide a discourse for the formation of the ideology of empire, racism, and colonialism. They also provide information regarding the conditions of the Indians and how they were treated by the colonizers.

1.Bouanani, Moulay Ali. “Propaganda for Empire: Barbary Captivity Literature in the U.S.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 7.4 (2009): 399-412. Routledge. Web. 26 Jul. 2013.

Bouanani’s article has arguments that speak in favor of the idea that empire and nation-building such as in the case of British colonialism of North America was based on a “sentimental demonization of the contact zone” with other peoples (399). Cotton Mather’s form of Protestantism, for example, was based on inventing enemies which were termed as Satan and then those enemies were racialised. Thus,  Puritanism became a “breeding ground” of racism towards Indians and rival Europeans (399-400).

As Nicholas Canny argues that British colonization of Ireland provided the rhetoric and ideological rhetoric for the colonization of America, Bouanani suggest that the Indian captivity narrative succeeded in demonizing the Indians and then the same narrative was extended to include demonization of Muslims. He argues that this tendency continues to the present day and shapes America’s ideology that it should have a rightful imperial control of a demoralized Orient. Such racial dichotomies provide the platform for narrative of empire whose sense of nationhood is justified by the colonization of the other (409-10).

2. Canny, Nicholas P. “The Ideology of English Colonization: From Ireland to America.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 30.4 (1973): 575-598. JSTOR. Web. 26 Jul. 2013.

Canny calls for viewing the European conquest of America in the context of Elizabethan conquest of Ireland (575). The justification for colonization of Ireland extended as a justification for the colonization of America as well. Some of those such as Gilbert and Grenville who who were involved in the colonization of Ireland were entrusted with the responsibility of colonizing the New World also (578). These people harbored various fallacious beliefs such as the Gaelic Irish were considered unreliable and could be managed only with force while the English could be brought to civility by persuasion. The Irish were seen a puerile not capable of independent government just as Indians were considered lawless savages (589). The English colonists’ justification of colonial conquests was based on their view that they were superior to all races. This ideology was put to practice in Ireland and emulated in the New World.

3. MacMillan, Ken. “Benign and Benevolent Conquest?: The Ideology of Elizabethan Atlantic Expansion Revisited.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 9.1 (2011): 32-72. Web. 26 Jul. 2013.

MacMillan argues that contrary to the hostile connotation given to the word conquest, in Elizabethan Atlantic Expansion, it carried a benign and benevolent connotation whereby the colonial England desired to establish long-term peace relationship with the Europeans. However, over the time, the word lost its benevolent meaning. The doctrine of conquest developed in the law of the nation (33). The Elizabethan expansionist ideology was, in the line of Bacon’s phrase, conquests of the works of nature (62). They thought that the slow and noble process of subduing and improving the natural environment benefited both the colonized people and their lands. What MacMillan fails to notice is that the idea of benevolent and beneficent conquest is inherently condescending if not outrightly malignant for it denies basic humanity to those it conquers.

4. Silverman, David J. “The Curse of God: An Idea and Its Origins among the Indians of New York’s Revolutionary Frontier.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 66.3 (2009): 495-534. Web. JSTOR. 25 Jul. 2013.

Silverman writes that the Indians were participants in early American debates about race. He cites example of Indians of Oneida country who had adopted Christian faith but they were unable to find equal benefits as the Europeans which led them to imagine that God cursed Indians as punished them for the sins of their ancestors. This is an important view to study because the study of ideology in the conquest of America, colonization and nation-building should also include Indian thoughts as before the European conquest and the change in them afterwards. Silverman writes that Indians developed the belief that they were cursed by God. He says that hypocrisy and graft were the essence of United States Indian affairs which disenchanted Indians who tried to live in a civilized manner and in accordance with the dictates of the Europeans. A balanced view emerges when one reads American Indian history that includes accounts by native Indians as well. The Indians did all that their white neighbors asked them to do including adopting the Christian religion and abandoning their land in return for peace and self-government. They migrated from their lands and fought for Europeans (534) but could not find what they desired which led to their internalizing the myth that they were cursed.

5. Mazzacano, Peter J. “Puritanism, Godliness, And Political Development In Boston & The General Court.” Journal Jurisprudence 12 (2011): 599-678. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 July 2013.

Mazzacano studies the extent of influence exerted by Puritanism on American political culture. He observes that Puritan values and practices facilitated the development of an exceptional political culture during the Massachusetts Bay period (599). The author researches the political development in the General Court and the town of Boston between 1630 and 1640 by studying the writings of leading Puritans,and town church and colonial records. He finds that Puritans did not pay attention to notions of democracy, theocracy, oligarchy and so on but their godly ideal inadvertently reinforced democratic republican ideals. He says that “Puritanism and its component parts amounted to a formative ideology in the new world. Because their convictions had consequences in an ideologically-free environment, Puritan ideals must have been of primary importance in the shaping and perpetuation of a coherent set of political ideas and practices (677). This article adds another view of the ideologies that formed the concept of America as a nation in the earliest times as well as the ideology of colonialism and its successful perpetuation.

The Invasion of America and Related Articles

Fischer, Kirsten. “In Retrospect: The Career of Francis Jennings.” Review in American History 30.4 (2002): 517-529. Web 18 Jul. 2013.

Kirsten Fischer writes that Jennings was a “dragon-slayer” and that his bête noires were legends such as myths of righteous European colonists seeking liberty in a land of Indians whom they considered savages and threats to themselves (517). Jennings lambasts Francis Parkman, an eminent nineteenth-century historian for romanticizing the role of colonists and lying about the Indian contributions to the 1758 peace negotiations in Pennsylvania. Fischer writes that Jennings was tirelessly devoted to attacking Parkman and in exposing the European myth of Indian savagery and European civility which he saw as the work of apologist historians who distorted history and perpetuated false information regarding early American history. For Jennings even the conversion of Indians was a pretext to collect money from the English government and use it for other purposes such as for Harvard which produced scholars steeped in traditions that Puritans like John Eliot espoused (519). As the Puritans were the winners, their version of history does not take into account their atrocities and the positive sides of the Indians. Fischer mentions The Invasion of America as a scathing attack on the dichotomy of savagery and civility. Writing after the death of Jennings, Fischer presents an outline of Jennings’ works and commends him as an author who exposed certain myths regarding American history.

Peter d’Errico. “Native Americans in America: A Theoretical and Historical Overview.” Wicazo Sa Review 14.1 Indigenous Resistance and Persistence (1999): 7-28. Web 18 Jul. 2013.

d’Errico’s essay ties well with Jennings argument that America was not a virgin land and that native people have been present in America since the earliest times. What sets them as different from the “minorities” in America is that they exist as self-governing groups rather than as individuals sharing personal and cultural traits—an important factor in understanding overall perspective of the early American history (8). He says that native Americans are not minorities who are seeking a ‘fair share’ in American society but are declaring the existence of a separate domain and their question involves the issue of ‘sovereignty’ (9). Self-government is the primary factor that separates the native Americans for other minority groups but it does not sit well with the multi-cultural society of America. d’Errico discusses the political demands made by the native Americans and the limitations of the American federal system for accommodating those demands but he does not explain well the reasons sovereignty would be useful to native Americans in the current times. The article provides a modern viewpoint to my historical study whereby I can better understand the change in ideology for native American demands over the times but the article does not provide substantial reason for demanding sovereignty for the indigenous peoples.

Roeber, A. G. “Review of The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest by Francis Jennings.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 9.2 (1978): 368-371. Web. 20 Jul. 2013.

According to Roeber, Jennings’ book is a revisionist attack on American Puritanism. He quickly brushes aside the Indian point of view of the European invasion of America, a point Jennings emphasizes upon. Roeber is critical of Jennings corrective views regarding the Indians and the vicissitudes they undergo o account of European colonization because he finds Jennings falling short of providing methodological grounds for his arguments and his inability to provide definitions for certain words such as the confusion regarding the words “myth” and “ideology” and “culture” (368). Roeber debunks Jennings claims that it was the desire for progress that propelled the colonizers for colonization of other lands but Jennings believes it was their belief in millennialism that propelled them to colonize other lands and seek more adventure. Roeber comments that language is important to a historian and anthropologist but Jennings is not careful of this fact. For Roeber, ethnohistorians are not scientific or objective than their confreres in any area of humanities.

Simmons, William S. “Cultural Bias in the New England Puritan’s Perception of Indians.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 38. 1 (1981): 56-72. Web 18 Jul. 2013.

In this article, the author argues that English Puritan voyagers to New England during the seventeenth century considered Indians in terms of mythical model that originated in Christian past and became more emphasized through the teachings of John Calvin. For them, the world was divided into the forces of light and darkness and this perception informed their wold view. This belief led them to see Indians as worshipers of devils who practiced witchcraft. The author tries to provide evidences from the Puritan sources that made the devil and witchcraft interpretations of Indian culture self-evident to the Puritans. For his source, Simmons draws upon the writing of seventeenth and eighteenth century English observers who lived in England and personally knew Indians. Puritans authors chronicled the beliefs and practices of the Indians as they saw them and they paid attention to those aspects of Indian culture which corresponded with their ideas of Satan and witchcraft. The Puritans employed a structural model based on the opposition between the forces of light and darkness which they saw as God and devil. The  model became an ideological tool in displacing the native inhabitants.Though Simmons observations are largely documented and plausible, his thesis is too general. He develops his article on obvious facts—facts that have been already commented upon previously and copiously.

Thomas, G. E. “Puritans, Indians, and the Concept of Race.” The New England Quarterly 48.1 (1975): 3-27. Web 18 Jul. 2013.

Though almost four decades old, this essay provides an important background to the perception of relations between Indians and Europeans. Thomas begins his essay by stating that historical interpretations of the relationship (four decades back) were based on the view that the colonizers were remarkably humane, considerate and just in their dealings with the natives (3). According to this view the Indians did not get destroyed by the colonists but by their inability to cope up with new challenges and diseases. Thomas sees this view as orthodox and biased against the Indians. One reason for this bias is the dependence on the writing of the seventeenth-century writers on the nature and value of Indian society (4). Similarly the Puritans stated that the main reason of their coming to New England was to proselytize the Indians but Thomas says they started on the mission of converting the Indians after a decade of their arrival; and while they promised freedom of faith to everyone, they forbade Indians the practice of their own religion or the use of their medicine man on threat of fine (5). Thomas’ essay is a useful corollary to Jennings argument which I am studying as my primary source.

The Myth of Wilderness in the Colonization of America

In his The Invasion of America, Francis Jennings joins the historiographical movement of indicting the Europeans for the depopulation of the Indian peoples in North America, seizing their lands deceitfully, inflicting wars, and destroying their culture. I argue with Jennings that the concept of America as a wilderness was a myth constructed by Reconnaissance Europeans who were the early colonizers and whose belief in their divine superiority as Christians as opposed to the inferiority of the heathens would later create the divide between the whites and the coloreds.

Though the book was not written pre-1865, it discusses the formative period of the European colonialism in America, its causes, its successful establishment and its continued ramifications. For the first part of my essay, I will study the different ideologies which helped establish the colonies in America and sustained the colonial enterprise there because this myth began as propaganda and developed into an ideology that is still accepted as standard convention for the divide between the civilized and the savage. Jennings discusses these developments in an evolutionary fashion in the first part of the book.

Ideology is understood as a set of ideas proposed and implemented by the dominant race or class of people. I intend to focus on evolutionary history of the European ideology of their supremacy over other races and the reasons for the dominance of such an ideology as described by Jennings. I will also study the similarities between the ideology that led to the English colonization of Ireland and other parts of the world and its colonization of America. Nicholas Canny discusses the English colonial experience in Ireland and the development of the ideology that the Irish were savages in contrast to the English who were civilized (579).

Though, as A. G. Roeber writes, Jennings does not always support his argument by citing substantial evidence (368). Sometimes he makes an argument appear as self-evident truth however, I am not concerned with the exactitude of Jennings claims but with the powerful role of ideology in the construction of myths. To illustrate his point, Jennings focuses his studies on New England region which in turn provides an alternative insight into the ideology of Puritans and the struggle among various subgroups of Puritans for the dominance of their own ideologies. This makes for an interesting study of the constant power dynamics at play for the dominance of a certain ideology even within a group.

Works Cited

Canny, Nicholas P. “The Ideology of English Colonization: From Ireland to America.” The William and Mary Quarterly. Third series. 30.4 (1973): 575-598. Web.  20 Jul. 2013.

Roeber, A. G. “Review of The Invasion of America: Indians, and the Cant of Conquest by Francis Jennings.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 9.2 (1978): 368-371. Web. 20 Jul. 2013.