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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.


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18 Rabbit, 11, 14, 19 Ackerman, Karl, 4 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain), 129 Age of Realism, 149 Aguirre, Robert D., 117 Akatzeeb, 97 Alarcón, Daniel Cooper, 4–5, 35 Albert, Prince, 174n Algic Researches (Schoolcraft), 113 altar. see monuments; ruins Altun Ha, 17 The American Biblical Repository, 73, 82, 86 American Boosterism, 7, 9 American Eclectic, 77 American Geographics (Harvey), 30–31 American Indians. see Indians, North American American Magazine and Repository, 76, 79–80, 83 “American Traveller,” 9, 16, 56, 69 Among the Mayan Ruins (Sutton and Sutton), 27 ancestors desecration of, 117 Mayan attitude toward, 116 animals, 12 Antiquities of Mexico (Kingsborough), 22 appearance, as reality, 32 Aquachapa, 40, 41, 43 architecture, Mayan, 140 Arcturus, A Journal of Books and Opinion, 3, 72, 77, 83, 86 art, Mayan as American, 102 complexity of, 130, 131 see also artifacts artifacts destruction of, 173n need to install in New York, 102 respect for, 13 Stephens’s gathering of, 93, 95–96, 100, 116 Stephens’s need for, 101 see also art, Mayan Lenz_Index.indd 181 15/07/13 5:09 PM 182 | RUINS, REVOLUTION, AND MANIFEST DESTINY Asebedo, Jose Maria, 35 Aspinwall, William H., 147 audience, Stephens’s, 122 Audubon, James, 139 Augustin (servant), 34 Ausel, Jill, 18 Aycinena, Antonio, 35 Baedeker’s, 149 Bailey, Mr., 61 Balize, 17, 132 see also Belize baptisms, 32, 68 Barnum, P. T., 12, 143, 173n Bartalo, 35 Bartlett, John Russell, 21–22 Bartlett and Welford, 21 Baym, Nina, 72 Belize Belmopan, 17 Cayo District, 14, 18 duPlooy’s...

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