Hemispheric Encounters

The Early United States in a Transnational Perspective

by Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez (Volume editor) Markus Heide (Volume editor)
©2016 Conference proceedings 236 Pages
Series: Interamericana, Volume 8


In the decades following the American Revolution, literary and cultural discourses, but also American collective and individual identification were shaped by transatlantic relations and inter-American exchanges and conflicts. The way Americans defined themselves as a nation and as individuals was shaped by such historical events and social issues as the Haitian Revolution, the struggles for independence in Spanish America, ties with Caribbean slave economies, and rivalries with other colonial powers in the Americas. Contextualizing transatlantic and inter-American relations within a framework of the Western Hemisphere, the essays collected in this volume discuss inter-American relations in the early United States, and in American, European and Spanish-American writing of the period.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Markus Heide & Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez – Introduction: The Early United States in a Transnational Perspective
  • I. The Two Americas: Spanish America and U.S. Literary Discourse
  • Wil M. Verhoeven – Trouble on the Western Frontier: Sedition and Secessionism in the Ohio Valley, 1783–1806
  • Barbara Buchenau – Empire – Nation – Urbanity: Renewing Scripts and Frames in the Old Northwest
  • Markus Heide – The Hemispheric Frame and Travel Writing of the Early United States: Zebulon Pike, Henry Marie Brackenridge, and William Duane
  • Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez – From “Southern Brethren” to “Treacherous Cowards”: Temporal Narratives of Latin America in Early Nineteenth-Century U.S. America
  • Astrid Haas – Mexican Travelers and the “Texas Question,” 1821–1836
  • Hannah Spahn – Erasing the Stamp of Toussaint L’Ouverture? The Haitian Revolution and the Question of Character
  • II. Transnational Perspectives and the Western Hemisphere
  • Stefan L. Brandt – The Algerine Dilemma: (Cons)Piracy and the Specter of North Africa in Early U.S. Barbary Narratives
  • Alma Villanueva – The Muslim Slave Auto/biographical Tradition: Disrupting the Master-Slave Dialectic in the Americas
  • Astrid M. Fellner – “Subaltern Knowledges in the Borderlands:” Drawing the Sexual Boundaries of the Early United States
  • Contributors
  • Index

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Markus Heide & Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez

Introduction: The Early United States in a Transnational Perspective

This volume originates in a conference on the topic of “Hemispheric Encounters” that took place at Leipzig University in April 2012. The conference provided early Americanists from Europe and the United States with research interests in transnational approaches a forum for discussion and exchange. The conference was funded by the German Research Foundation as part of our research projects on “Post-Revolutionary Identity Constructions in a Transnational Perspective” (Pisarz-Ramirez) and on “The Trans-National Imagination in Early American Travel Writing” (Heide). Our research has been significantly influenced by twentieth and twenty-first century scholarship that complicates interpretations of early American culture, which often persisted in a national paradigm marked by exceptionalist tendencies. The questions raised and the discussions that emerged during our gathering in Leipzig form the conceptual basis for this volume.

The location of the conference in Europe is one indication of the continually increasing interest of Europe-based scholars of early American history, literature, and culture in transnational approaches to the history of the United States, particularly in notions of American history that conceptualize the national emergence of the United States not primarily in transatlantic space but just as much in the Western hemisphere. As Ralph Bauer highlights, European scholars’ interest in the history of the Americas (in its entirety) can be traced back to the 1950s when the Italian historian Antonello Gerbi published his comparative hemispheric studies of the eighteenth-century debate on the influences of the New World environment on flora and fauna, including The Dispute of the New World: The History of a Polemic, 1750–1900 (1955). Another scholar who explored the literature of the European discovery from a comparative perspective was Hans Galinsky (“Hemispheric” 234). Continuing this tradition of Europe-based scholars of transnational American Studies, Barbara Buchenau and Annette Paatz more recently edited the collection Do the Americas have a Common Literary History? in 2002. The volume was published in the same series as the present volume. The contributions in Do the Americas have a Common Literary History? emphasize the importance of studying the literature of the early national period in an international context. Given that, as Armin Paul Frank points out in his introduction to the volume, “[a]ll national literatures are international” (22), it is crucial to “examine literary ← 9 | 10 → works within the contexts relevant to their authors” (19) rather than, following a teleological interpretation, constructing a distinctive national literary tradition, as many more traditional literary histories have done. Indeed, many early American authors related their writings less to an emerging national literature than to reference points outside the national framework. In view of this situation, the literary critic Paul Giles describes the colonial period and the early decades of the Republic until the Civil War as a “transnational era” in American literary history, a periodization which he distinguishes from the “national period” following it. As Giles states, “the identification of American literature with U.S. national territory was an equation confined to the national period and not something that was equally prevalent either before or afterward” (1). From such a perspective, internationalizing American Studies means opening up the frame of perception and interpretation for comparative approaches as well as for an awareness that America is, as Brian T. Edwards and Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar put it, “a turnstile in the global flows” (9) or a “node in the global circuit” (26). Endeavoring to break up what they see as an ongoing exceptionalism in American Studies, Edwards and Gaonkar propose applying a multilateral perspective to the study of the United States. From this angle, it is easier to “see the United States horizontally in terms of its place and its interests in the world rather than vertically as an agent constituted and galvanized by a distinct set of historically sedimented institutions and ideologies” (29). For this kind of trans-regional research, we suggest that it may be advantageous to read the United States from outside its national borders.

Apart from the work by historians such as Gerbi and Galinsky, ‘outside’ contributions and ‘European’ approaches to Hemispheric American Studies have become manifest in a variety of activities and publications of the recent past. To name just a few initiatives among many from all over Europe, the founding conference of the International Association of Inter-American Studies took place in Essen (Germany) in 2010. The association’s journal, the Forum for Inter-American Research (FIAR), is edited at Bielefeld University (Germany), a university that has hosted a series of conferences and collaborative research activities in comparative and transnational American Studies. Bielefeld University also established a Master’s program in Inter-American Studies. In addition, similar programs were founded at Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), which offers a Research Master’s degree (M. Phil.) in Inter-American Studies, the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany), which offers a Master of Arts in “The Americas/Las Américas,” and La Universidad de La Laguna (Spain), which offers a Master’s Degree in North American Studies that combines the study of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. An annual summer school in Inter-American Studies has taken place at Karl-Franzens-University in Graz (Austria) since 2008. Groningen University in ← 10 | 11 → the Netherlands just founded an interdisciplinary Research Center for the Americas that brings together scholars from U.S. American, Mexican, and Canadian Studies and promotes international research on the American hemisphere. In Scandinavia, a cooperation of the Swedish Institute for North American Studies (SINAS) at Uppsala University and the John Morton Center for North American Studies at the University of Turku (Finland) initiated annual symposia on issues in Inter-American Studies. The book series Inter-American Perspectives / Perspectivas Interamericanas, edited by Josef Raab, Sebastian Thies, and Olaf Kaltmeier (published with LIT Verlag and later with Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier) now comprises fourteen volumes, and the Interamericana series—of which this volume is part—aims at promoting research with a focus on inter-American issues.

Transnational Perspective on Early America: Beyond Presentism

Over the past two decades, scholars of American literary and cultural studies have emphasized the necessity of transnational approaches in order, first, to overcome the residues of American exceptionalism, and second, to become aware of American specificities in a comparative framework. In her presidential address to the American Studies Association in November 2004, Shelley Fisher Fishkin identified a transnational turn in American Studies. She referred to the many efforts taken by Americanists in recent years to theorize “the need for seeing America as part of a world system” (21). Speaking about the growing importance of the transnational to American Studies, Fisher Fishkin cited many examples of research across national borders, most of them referring to research on contemporary issues, but some on subjects reaching back to the American Civil War. However, only few of her examples deal with the early national period of the United States. Likewise, Emory Elliott in his article, “Diversity in the United States and Abroad: What Does it Mean When American Studies is Transnational?” refers to transnationalism mainly as a phenomenon of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries (22). Regarding intellectuals, writers, and artists of color in the United States who were “internationalists and universalists before the concept of the transnational emerged” (10), Elliott focuses on the period between “the 1880s and the 1960s,” when “there was a much more substantial and influential community of black and Latino/a intellectuals than mainstream scholarship had previously recognized” (11). Although Elliott brings very important late nineteenth and twentieth century catalysts of transnational studies into focus, he does not trace transnational writing back to the literature of the early national period, the very literary era much of his influential research examined. ← 11 | 12 →

Fisher Fishkin’s and Elliot’s ways of thinking about the transnational are quite symptomatic of the way American Studies has typically framed the concept. While sociologists and anthropologists tend to interpret transnationalism as an umbrella concept for contemporary global diasporic processes and networks, Cultural Studies often reads transnationalism as a paradigm for multiple and split ethnic or cultural identities, cultural hybridization processes, and formations of diasporic literatures. Contrary to this, American Studies scholarship of the early United States has long concentrated on studying the emergence of national myths, ideologies, and cultural patterns, while leaving international and global exchanges, interrelations, and confluences during the early national period rather unexplored. Critics such as Anna Brickhouse therefore speak of a wide-spread “presentism” of transnational analyses based on the assumption that “literary transnationalism in the Americas and the critical perspectives it invites are natural outgrowths of the massive human migrations, urban pluralism, and cultural globalization the hemisphere has witnessed over the course of the twentieth century” (408). As Brickhouse argues, many of the literary configurations that are linked by critics to the twentieth century “were in fact addressed by writers in the Americas as explicit questions and problems well before the modern and contemporary periods to which they have largely been consigned” (408). With such historical revisionism in view, the contributions to this volume deploy transnational approaches in literary and historical studies as a way to interrogate the interconnectedness of different regions of the world, power asymmetries characterizing global relations, and overlapping of cultural formations beyond national, local, and colonial boundaries.

The Hemispheric Perspective: Why Study the Hemisphere?

In the methodological transnationalism explored and employed in this volume, the Americas (defined as South America, Central America, North America, and the Caribbean) function as the region of critical reference. We understand hemispheric American literary and cultural studies as one of several more recent approaches to American Studies that challenge American exceptionalism and explore several connections between the United States and the world. However, so as to not simply replace national borders by new or shifted regional borders, this critical regionalism1 requires the contextualization of the Americas in additional ← 12 | 13 → global histories. Thus, the hemispheric American Studies as we promote it in this volume is attentive to, first, not reproducing concepts of American exceptionalism that have long characterized American culture and American Studies, and second, not installing a new regionalist exceptionalism of ‘the Americas.’ In a related vein, Caroline F. Levander and Robert Levine question the claim of ‘newness’ that has asserted itself in terms such as ‘New American Studies’ or ‘New Americanists.’ As Levander and Levine point out, these claims have made “American studies more rather than less susceptible to the charge of area studies specialists that it is exceptionalist” (399), as it “too often assumes the US nation as the default unit of intellectual engagement governing ‘comparatist’ approaches” (400).

More recently, scholars have employed the term ‘the Western hemisphere’ as a frame for comparative critical practice, literary analysis, literary history, and cultural studies. Such approaches to the study of relations between the United States and Latin America differ from previous ones: earlier models of a hemispheric approach to American history, culture and literature were, for example, developed by Eugene Bolton in the 1930s (“The Epic of Greater America”), in an essay collection edited by Lewis Hanke entitled Do the Americas Have a Common History? (1964), and Gustavo Pérez Firmat’s Do the Americas Have a Common Literature? (1990). Much of the current transnational and hemispheric work in American Studies takes up such research, but at the same time questions certain assumptions of national belonging that inform and influence earlier ‘hemispheric’ scholarship. Some of the latest explorations of the hemisphere’s literary and cultural history align with other discourses of pan-identities resulting from a history of colonialism and globalization (e.g. The Black Atlantic, Atlantic history, transnational migrant communities, Diaspora Studies, Orientalisms). Certainly the different Latino cultures in the United States and the rather nascent research in Latino Studies have also been influential in developing the notion of hemispheric American Studies (e.g. Kirsten Silva Gruesz’s Ambassadors of Culture: The Transamerican Origins of Latino Writing).

As part of these paradigm shifts in research on the Western hemisphere, a multiplicity of concepts has been proposed for viewing North American literature within transnational frameworks—concepts that configure the United States as part of ‘the Americas.’ While traditional comparative approaches that focus on intertextualities between Anglophone North American, Latin American, and Caribbean literatures have not sufficiently addressed the complexities of multiple interrelatedness, scholars such as Joseph Roach (Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance), Walter Mignolo (“Border Gnosis” [Mignolo 13]) or Gloria Anzaldúa (Borderlands) have started to rewrite the history of inter-American cultural contacts by employing paradigms that link the Americas in a ← 13 | 14 → framework that transcends the concept of the nation. In his The New American Studies, for instance, John Carlos Rowe addresses implications of new regionalisms that span national borders, such as Southern California’s relation to Asia and Mexico, the Southeast’s relation to the ‘Black Atlantic,’ and Miami’s relations with Cuba, Haiti, and Latin America. In this context, Rowe uses the term “hemispheric study” as a conceptual model for examining such transnational communities in the Americas. In general, New American Studies, according to Rowe, emphasizes that the consideration of “local conditions should be contextualized in a larger understanding of the United States in the comparative contexts of the western hemispheric and finally the global study” that he describes. (60).

In the more recent past, work within the field of hemispheric American Studies has grown tremendously. Commenting on this shift in area studies, Sophia A. McClennen calls attention to the troubling correlations between transnational approaches in the humanities—particularly area studies—and imperial histories and politics. Discussing the relation of American Studies, Latin American Studies, and Inter-American Studies in a methodological and historical perspective, she poses questions such as: “How to open up area studies without replicating imperial practices? How could American Studies really be post-national?” (“Area Studies” 174). Rather than continuing the discussion of what we study, McClennen proposes instead to ask why we broaden the scope of our area study fields, rather than approaching inter-American studies in ontological terms to “foreground the ethical dimensions of one’s research” (176). From a Latin American Studies perspective, McClennen reminds us that despite the comparatist approaches of scholars aimed at critiquing “cultural essentialist epistemes,” Inter-American Studies does not necessarily foreclose the danger of “representing the latest variation on the Monroe Doctrine of policing the region” (“Inter-American” 393).2

Taking these theoretical and conceptual shifts in American Literary and Cultural Studies as a reference point and framework, this volume asks how relations between the United States and Latin America, as well as other parts of the world, are played out in American society, culture, and literature of the early national period. We understand Hemispheric American Studies as:

(1) a transnational approach highlighting the interconnectedness of different regions of the world and power asymmetries characterizing global relations. In this methodological transnationalism, the Americas function as the region of central interest. ← 14 | 15 →

(2) an approach that has been discussed at various historical moments. While our approach is indebted to recent scholarship inspired by transnational and postcolonial notions of Literary and Cultural Studies (e.g. Pease, Mignolo, Gruesz, Murphy, Bauer, Levander and Levine), our approach simultaneously takes up issues discussed in earlier research on inter-American relations and the idea of the hemisphere. Such previous research had its focus on the Spanish and Mexican Frontier in North America (e.g. Weber’s Mexican Frontier and Spanish Frontier), Pan-Americanism (Lockey, Aguilar, Fagg),3 or stemmed from comparative literary studies (Perez-Firmat, J.D. Saldívar’s Dialectics and Border Matters, Zamora). Hemispheric American Studies carries on certain methods and lines of thought characteristic of this previous research, but also distances itself from earlier assumptions that scholars interested in critical transnational studies today consider flawed and insufficiently reflective on the unique histories and conditions of the Western hemisphere.

Early American Studies, Transnationalism, and the Western Hemisphere

Since the late 1980s, there have been numerous efforts to shed light upon the instability and vagueness of early national identity discourses between the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries. ‘Republicanism’ has been shown to be less of a coherent political and philosophical concept and more of a flexible cultural signifier that was ‘translated’ by various strata and subgroups of the population (women, ‘middling sorts,’4 African-Americans, backwoodsmen, etc.) into their respective horizons of understanding and value systems, and which found different forms of expression in the various popular discourses of post-revolutionary society (cf. e.g. Warner, Burgett, Kerber, Appleby, Nash). From these explorations, the construction of the nation emerged no longer as a process of differentiation from Europe only, but also as a process of negotiating national identities within the new republic. Critical research on post-revolutionary America in the 1990s ← 15 | 16 → and early 2000s complicated traditional interpretations of early American culture from various angles. Important inroads into this field were made with the help of perspectives from Race and Gender Studies, as well as Popular Culture Studies (Davidson, Breen, Halttunen, Newman), which led not only to the considerable enlargement of the corpus of early American texts, but also resulted in increased awareness of the heterogeneity of early concepts of ‘American’ identity. Anthologies such as Vincent Carretta’s Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-Speaking World of the Eighteenth-Century (1996), Myra Jehlen and Michael Warner’s The English Literatures of America, 1500–1800 (1997), Sharon M. Harris’ American Women Writers to 1800 (1996), Thomas Krise’s Caribbeana: An Anthology of English Literature of the West Indies 1657–1777 (1999), and Paul Baepler’s White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives (1999) introduced diversity into the early American literary canon, offering both numerous texts and introductory material about little-known authors. The (re)introduction of these previously unknown or obscure texts that had been omitted from the canon served to question the view of the early American literary scene as a homogenous landscape of white male writing, inspiring what Ivy Schweitzer refers to as the “salutary decoupling” of New England and America (578). Michael Warner’s The Letters of the Republic (1990) describes the links between the formation of the nation and the development of a ‘culture of letters,’ in which people became citizens by participating in the newly emerging public sphere as readers or writers. Magazine and periodical culture—previously considered of marginal interest to literary history—have also been proven to be complex interpretive fields for understanding early American culture, literature, and history (Kamrath, Kamrath and Harris).5

The origins of a transnational, and particularly hemispheric body of comparative studies are rooted in the 1930s. Eugene Bolton’s much-debated article “The Epic of Greater America” (1933), which was first delivered as a presidential address to the American Historical Association in 1932, summons historians to think ‘hemispherically,’ arguing that “the study of thirteen English colonies and the U.S. in isolation has obscured many of the larger factors of their development, and helped to raise up a nation of chauvinists” (448). Bolton’s address investigates the interrelated histories of the Americas, from Canada to Tierra del Fuego, and observes parallel historical, political, and cultural processes occurring throughout the Americas, from colonization to the wars of independence and nation building. ← 16 | 17 →

In the United States, Bolton’s argument received scant attention; in Latin America, however, it was harshly challenged by the Mexican historian Edmundo O’Gorman, who referred to the cultural and geographic specificities of the different parts of the Americas, which in his view made them incomparable. O’Gorman in particular attacked Bolton’s “developmentalist” approach (Fox 639). Bolton’s idea of ‘culture progress’ that underlies his unifying vision implies a notion that equates progress with prosperity, thus suggesting that countries without material wealth are unable to be progressive—a notion O’Gorman challenged with the Hegelian progressivist theory of history.6

In 1964 historian Lewis Hanke asked, “Do the Americas Have a Common History?,” a question that he answered in the negative, pointing to the many differences in culture, religion, and language (like O’Gorman). While historians of Early America contributed to these hemispheric debates, as Bauer states, “the hemispheric and comparative approach has not traditionally held a strong currency” (“Notes” 283). Until recently, many studies of early literary history of the Americas concentrated on comparing individual authors, such as Alfred Owen Aldridge’s Early American Literature: A Comparatist Approach (1982). It is only in the past two decades, for instance, that literary critics working on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have started exploring the literary and cultural manifestations of an American North-South interrelatedness.

More recent investigations have approached comparative American Studies from a series of new perspectives, encouraging the study of previously unexplored aspects of the relatedness of the various parts of the Americas. The founding of the journal Comparative American Studies in 2002 created a scholarly forum for critical work in the field of inter-American Studies. The journal’s special issue, Critical Perspectives and Emerging Models of Inter-American Studies, edited by Claire F. Fox, as well as other special issues such as Hemispheric American Literature of American Literary History (18.3 [2006]) have helped to broaden the scope of discussion. AmeriQuests, a journal published since 2004 by the Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt University aims to create a “forum for writing and research about real and metaphorical quests towards ‘America’ ” (“Focus and Scope”) and dedicated its third issue to Quebec and Canada in the Americas (2006), which questions the isolationist position and frequent exemption of Canada from the concept of inter-American Studies. The Forum for Inter-American Research ← 17 | 18 → (FIAR), the journal of the Inter-American Studies Association, has also published significant contributions to the field.

In these journals and scholarly publications, critics have produced a series of new approaches to the study of the Americas, which they describe as “an Americas paradigm” (Shukla and Tinsman 17), “inter-American Studies” (Sadowski-Smith and Fox 20), “trans-American imaginary” (Moya and Saldívar 1) or, as employed by Anna Brickhouse, “transamerican literary relations.” Apart from publications in journals, a series of new book-length studies have also widened the perspective of comparative studies. These books and articles have contributed substantially to the reassessment of early national text production in the following ways: (a) foregrounding underexplored moments in late eighteenth and antebellum nineteenth century history; (b) revaluating the U.S. South from a hemispheric and comparative perspective; and (c) emphasizing the importance of the Caribbean and of other non-European extra-national regions for the establishment of a national identity. Studies such as Kirsten Silva Gruesz’s Ambassadors of Culture: The Transamerican Origins of Latino Writing (2002), Robert E. May’s Manifest Destiny’s Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America (2004), Amy S. Greenberg’s Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire (2005), and Gretchen Murphy’s Hemispheric Imaginings: The Monroe Doctrine and Narratives of U.S. Empire (2005) have begun to imagine, in Gruesz’s words, “a new form of U.S. cultural history in general […] that question[s] the imperial conflation of the United States with America” (4). Gruesz reenvisions the American Renaissance of the 1840s and 1850s in the context of the nation’s relations with its Southern neighbors, proposing to shift the attention from the conventional landmarks of nineteenth century history—Jacksonian individualism, the Civil War, and the rise of urban industrial capitalism—towards moments equally important to the intellectual and cultural life of the period, such as the Monroe Doctrine, the Mexican-American War, as well as the filibustering of North Americans in Central America and the Caribbean. She outlines a hemispheric Spanish-language print culture extending from New York to Havana to Mexico City and shows how it was linked to Anglo-American literature and print cultures. Gruesz aims to outline a different version of the American Renaissance, one which understands “subsequent decades not through the lens of the Civil War and Reconstruction but in terms of the development of U.S. expansionism” (11). Moving away from canonical scenarios of literary activity toward a more expanded vision that takes into account additional languages and other spaces, Gruesz shows that there was indeed a literary scene for which the global sphere was as important as the local one, and calls for “a new geography of American literary history that emphasizes its formation within and around a culture of the Americas” (6). ← 18 | 19 →

In Manifest Destiny’s Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America, the historian Robert E. May surveys the history of filibustering from its early beginnings in the late eighteenth century to the 1850s and argues that the filibusters, who have largely vanished from our historical memory, had a critical impact on contemporary American culture and politics. He also shows that support for filibustering was much more widespread than historians had previously assumed. May’s essay “Reconsidering Antebellum U.S. Women’s History: Gender, Filibustering, and America’s Quest for Empire” as well as Amy S. Greenberg’s study Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire focus on the impact of filibustering on popular culture. May’s essay suggests that “although women played a relatively minor role numerically in filibustering, they nonetheless asserted themselves as planners, propagandists, participants, and popularizers” (1159)—in texts such as Elizabeth D. Livermore’s The Quadroon’s Triumph, Anna Ella Carroll’s glorification of filibuster William Walker in The Star of the West, as well as in public demonstrations of solidarity with Narciso López’s failed filibustering expeditions to Cuba. Greenberg also shows how filibustering captured the American imagination; by examining travel narratives, novels, literary magazines, and newspapers, she investigates how filibustering contested contemporary visions of masculinity, claiming that antebellum expansionism was shaped by “debates over the meaning of American manhood and womanhood” (14). While the transformation of American society encouraged a model of restrained manhood that embraced moderate behavior, virtue, and the cult of domesticity, attributes such as physical courage, and dominance over others, which were no longer as widely accepted found their outlet in a model of “martial manhood” (12), which embodied “masculine qualities of strength, aggression, and even violence” (12). This model attracted men drawn to martial adventures abroad, who imagined Central America and the Caribbean as new frontiers where they could prove that “martial qualities” still mattered (169).

Gretchen Murphy’s study Hemispheric Imaginings: The Monroe Doctrine and Narratives of US Empire (2005) undertakes a cultural analysis of the Monroe Doctrine, aiming to understand “how ‘the hemisphere’ became a meaningful cultural and geopolitical frame for American nationalism” (4). In the first part of her book, Murphy focuses on the Antebellum period, tracing the literary impact of the Monroe Doctrine in works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lydia Maria Child, Francis Lister Hawks, and others, seeking a framework of a “wider cultural imagination that is expressed through romance novels and other popular entertainments as well as political texts” to show how “these intersecting arenas of the cultural and political were the spaces where the Monroe Doctrine rose to ideological hegemony” (17). A reappraisal of the contemporary literary scene in light of these ← 19 | 20 → relationships is at the core of Anna Brickhouse’s Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth Century Public Sphere (2004). Brickhouse stresses the unstable boundaries of nation within a New World arena characterized by the overlap and simultaneity of different national claims not only upon geographical territories, but also upon texts and traditions (7). The central argument she makes is that transamerican literary relations in the nineteenth century, particularly during the years between the Congress of Panama in 1826 and the Continental Treaty in 1856, had considerable influence on the public sphere. She contends that the American Renaissance—usually seen as a national literary phenomenon—should actually be reconfigured as a trans-American Renaissance, characterized by literary border crossings and exchange. As Brickhouse shows, even some of the most influential writers of the period—Hawthorne, Cooper, Bryant, Melville, and others—were embedded within a hemispheric network of literary cultures and lines of influence that “provide[d] crucial ways of understanding and delineating their character as national writers” (10). Much more than an influence study alone, Brickhouse’s book makes a larger argument that nation-based approaches should be reconsidered when studying nineteenth-century literary texts.

A number of studies reexplore the U.S. American South from a hemispheric perspective. Vera Kutzinski emphasizes the often unacknowledged historical perception of the southernmost parts of the United States as cultural “rimlands of the Caribbean […] ever since slaves were traded between the two areas, well before the Louisiana Purchase of 1803” (61–62). This reappraisal of the South as a liminal place has enabled and encouraged the study of nineteenth century texts previously unexplored, such as travel texts of Southerners venturing into the Caribbean. It has also enabled studies like Stephanie LeMenager’s Manifest and Other Destinies: Territorial Fictions of the Nineteenth-Century United States (2004), which shows that the South produced a variety of discursive alternatives to the claim of Manifest Destiny, such as a vision of a “Southern empire” encompassing plantation societies in the South, the Caribbean and even Brazil,7 a place of “imaginary nations within nations […] and mutant semi-national confederations” (18). LeMenager also describes the uneasiness felt by many Americans concerning the supposed impossibility of assimilating both the territories acquired through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and their extant populations as a kind of “unhappy transnationalism” (15). As she has observed, nineteenth-century texts referring to these territories often do so by lamenting either their cultural heterogeneity or their lack of civilization, if not their hostile character, characteristics which ← 20 | 21 → seemed to preclude any civilizing efforts. Deborah Cohn’s and John Smith’s edited essay collection Look Away! The US South in New World Studies (2004) assembles essays by scholars who have moved away from conventional perceptions of the South as an isolated and largely homogenous region and explore the multiple links between the South with the Caribbean and Latin America, but also with the North of the United States. As Cohn and Smith state, “[t]he very factors that allegedly make the South exceptional within the context of the United States thus make it acutely familiar within broader categories of Americanness and postcoloniality” (3).

Like the book by Cohn and Smith, various other studies, many of them authored by historians, have foregrounded the importance of the Caribbean for the establishment of a national identity (Geggus, Linebaugh and Rediker, Zuckerman, Trouillot). Beginning in the 1990s, historians have chronicled the profound impact of the Haitian Revolution on the United States: in a 1993 article, historian Michael Zuckermann argues that the Haitian Revolution played a role in structuring the very definition of a racial identity in the United States (176). For Eric Sundquist, in his influential To Wake the Nations, Race in the Making of American Literature, the Revolution offered “to both American slaves and American writers a distilled symbolic representation of the doubleness of the democratic ideal born in the revolutions of 1776 and 1798” (35). Both Alfred Hunt’s Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean (1988) and David P. Geggus’s collection of essays, The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World (2001), emphasize the extraordinary significance of the Haitian Revolution for the United States. In the field of early American literary studies, Michael Drexler’s critical work on Charles Brockden Brown and Leonora Sansay (“Brigands and Nuns”), his edition of Leonora Sansay’s novels Secret History and Laura and his research on Sansay’s relationship to Aaron Burr, as well as Drexler and Ed White’s recent book, The Traumatic Colonel: The Founding Fathers, Slavery, and the Phantasmatic Aaron Burr (2014) have provided multiple insights into the cultural and political links between the early United States and the Haitian Revolution. In their monograph, Drexler and White draw on novels by Charles Brockden Brown and Tabitha Tenney as well as on pamphlets, tracts, and other political literature to read Burr, the third vice president of the United States and the central figure of a major conspiracy,8 as a “phantasmatic” figure who resists ← 21 | 22 → “incorporation in the semiotic system of the Founders” (9) and who embodies the political tensions and anxieties of the early United States as a slave nation facing the possibility of slave revolts.

Yet another study that revaluates early American culture in relation to its Caribbean neighbors is Sean Goudie’s Creole America: The West Indies and the Formation of Literature and Culture in the New Republic (2006). Goudie highlights the West Indies as a site that was both important for the economic prosperity of the young nation and as a place that embodied Americans’ anxieties about their own “creolité” (209). ‘Creole,’ as he demonstrates, was a marker denoting the mixture of New World cultures, languages, peoples, and races from a European perspective. The marker was applied to both European colonists and black and mulatto slaves and freedmen born in the New World and was often used to express notions of degeneracy.9 The concomitant dependence on economic relations with the West Indies and the anxiety about the pejorative connotations related to Creoles created what Goudie calls “the creole complex” (25), which resulted in the tacit suppression of any links with the West Indies, an insistence on the difference between a “civilized” American nation and its Creole West Indian Other (34), and the projection of fears about their own national character. Goudie explores this “creole complex” by focusing on the prominent figure of Alexander Hamilton, as well as on a series of well-known, but also lesser-known writers from this period, including Philip Freneau, Charles Brockden Brown, Leonora Sansay, and J. Robinson.

The imagination of a circum-Caribbean community of slaveholders is at the center of Matthew Pratt Guterl’s American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation (2007), which situates the U.S. American South in a hemispheric context and shows how Southern slave owners were linked to other slaveholders in the Americas through “institutions, cultures, and ‘structures of feeling’ ” (1). Guterl’s hemispheric perspective allows him to juxtapose places as distant as Mississippi and Jamaica, New Orleans and Havana, and figures such as Toussaint L’Ouverture and George Washington, as he offers a transnational look on slavery and emancipation.

The reassessment of literary history from a hemispheric perspective also includes the recovery and revaluation of Spanish-language publications. While Gruesz’s work has already been mentioned, among the endeavors to reexplore the largely obscured early Spanish-language literary traditions within the United ← 22 | 23 → States, it is important to cite Recovering the Hispanic Literary Heritage of the United States (1998), a project by Latino publisher Arte Público Press, which aims at the recovery, study, and publication of early U.S. Hispanic literature. In the years since its establishment, the project has generated both anthologies (Kanellos) and critical volumes10 covering the emergence and development of U.S. Hispanic literature from colonial times to the period of its enhanced visibility due to its institutionalization at American universities.

Against the background of these many projects and approaches, the essays in this volume cover a wide range of ‘hemispheric encounters.’ The collection is organized into nine chapters structured thematically in two groups. The essays of the first section discuss inter-American relations in the early United States, and in American, European, and Spanish-American writings during the period. The second section gathers essays that examine early U.S. literature from a transnational perspective, contextualizing transatlantic and inter-American relations within a framework of the Western Hemisphere.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (May)
transatlantic relations travel literature Spanish American independence interamerican relations
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 236 pp., 1 coloured fig.

Biographical notes

Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez (Volume editor) Markus Heide (Volume editor)

Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez is Professor of American Studies and Minority Studies at Leipzig University (Germany). Her research interests and fields of publication include inter-American Studies, race and ethnicity (especially Latino/a Studies), transculturation, early American Studies, and 19th century popular literature. Markus Heide is Senior Lecturer of American Studies at the Swedish Institute for North American Studies (SINAS) at Uppsala University (Sweden). He has published monographs and essays on different issues in U.S.-Latino/a Studies and 19th century American literature, with a particular interest in inter-American relations.


Title: Hemispheric Encounters