Show Less

Ruins, Revolution, and Manifest Destiny

John Lloyd Stephens Creates the Maya


William E. Lenz

As American literary and cultural scholars reconsider the foundations of U.S. relations with other nations, Ruins, Revolution, and Manifest Destiny: John Lloyd Stephens Creates the Maya locates in Stephens’s immensely popular nineteenth-century travel narratives (1841, 1843) the sources of American perceptions of Central America and contributes directly to current redefinitions of American nationalism, Manifest Destiny, and hemispheric imperialism. The study challenges modern readers to examine critically the cultural stereotypes that the nineteenth century embraced and that often formed the basis for national policy. By reading Stephens closely, by locating him within a larger cultural dialogue about such crucial issues as national identity, race relations, Manifest Destiny, and historical representation, we can better understand past and present national attitudes toward peoples and nations south of the U.S. territorial border. Anticipating many of the issues that would give rise to the war with Mexico and then to the U.S. Civil War, Stephens sees the racial landscape of Central America in stark categories. Writing travel narratives about Central America and reading narratives written by an American traveling in Central America are acts of cultural imperialism that result in both writer and reader implicitly possessing Central America, absorbing its Mayan history and contemporary diversity into an American national mythology. Central America becomes, through Stephens’s acts of exploring and inscribing, an imaginative extension of the United States and the Maya, the original New World Americans. Ruins, Revolution, and Manifest Destiny encourages twenty-first-century readers to untangle these often conflicting acts of exploration, inscription, and imagination.


Show Summary Details
Restricted access

Epilogue. The Footsteps Form a Circle


Epilogue The Footsteps Form a Circle It seems altogether appropriate to let Eugene Exman in The Brothers Harper bring closure to Stephens’ adventures. “Stephens had died in New York in 1852, passing into a coma on the very day that a ship bearing his name was launched—the flagship of the Panama Mail Steamship Company. Although the newspapers published lav- ish obituaries, he was not long remembered. He was buried in New York’s Marble Cemetery in the wrong tomb and in an unmarked grave” (360).1 In the 9 years between the publication of Incidents of Travel in Yucatan and his death in 1852, Stephens rediscovered his interest in politics and speculative capitalism. In 1846 he was elected to the New York Constitutional Convention for both the Whig and Democratic Parties. In June 1847 he sailed as vice-president of the Ocean Steam Navigating Company from New York to Bremerhaven, the voyage affording him the opportunity to meet with the author, explorer, and authority on Mexico, Baron Alexander von Humboldt.2 Stephens’ company demonstrated that an American firm could in fact compete with England in the steamship trade in the Atlantic. Following the discovery of gold in California in 1848, Stephens partnered with William H. Aspinwall and Henry Chauncey to create the Panama Railroad Company in 1849 with the express purpose of creating a trans-isthmus passage for American miners and their cargo. Their Memorial to Congress is inspirational and visionary: Lenz_Epi.indd 147 07/06/13 2:41 PM 148 | RUINS, REVOLUTION, AND MANIFEST...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.