In the closing decades of the sixteenth century, England attempted its first colonial expansion into the New World through planned settlements in Ireland, Newfoundland, Virginia, and Guiana. All of these colonial efforts were unsuccessful. Yet these projects were a significant cultural force in early modern England. Influenced by recent work in postcolonial theory and cultural studies, Shannon Miller's Invested with Meaning examines the documentary and material remains of these vanished colonies to explore the multiple influences of the Irish and New World encounters on English culture.
Miller contends that the projects sponsored by the Raleigh circle were inextricably bound to the economic and social transformations of English systems, including the transition from a feudal-based economy to an emergent capitalism, the redefinition of the patron-client relationship, and challenges to the categories of gentry and merchant. These social and economic transitions shaped the goals of the colonization projects and dictated the ways in which the writers and artists of these enterprises could frame the New World and its people; influenced by the changes in England, their construction of the New World both reflected and helped to constitute a sense of English national identity.