"Describing Early America: Bartram, Jefferson, Crèvecoeur, and the Influence of Natural History"


Bookcover.jpegPamela Regis
$14.95 paper; 200 pages

During the 18th century, natural historians took as their subject all of what they called Creation and approached it through a single methodology, the centerpiece of which was the Linnaean system of describing and naming plants and animals, classifying them, and locating them along the Great Chain of Being. In Linnaeus's scheme the natural order is timeless, unchanging.

Author Pamela Regis argues that this static view of nature structures such prominent texts from early America as William Bartram's "Travels," Thomas Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia," and J. Hector St. John de Crvecoeur's "Letters from an American Farmer." In these works, she shows, the narrative sections serve merely to connect passages shaped by the descriptive method of natural history.

This method makes the land appear new, stripped of any history. Thus Bartram's America, for example, seems to be waiting for history to happen, for individuals to live their lives there.

The book has been widely praised. According to the William & Mary Quarterly, "Regis makes an important contribution to the understanding of eighteenth-century American ideas," and the reviewer in American Literature writes, "Regis offers a valuable and challenging revision of contemporary understanding of her subjects' literary purposes and the place of these texts in American literary history."

- University of Pennsylvania Press

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Originally published on May 13, 1999