Thesis ID: CBB587267187

Evolving the Genre of Empire: Gender and Place in Women's Natural Histories of the Americas, 1688-1808 (2016)


In the eighteenth century, “natural history” was a capacious genre designation that alluded to conventions as diverse in their cultural and political resonances as they were in their applications within the New Science. My project is a genre study of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century natural history text and art produced by women scientists, explorers, colonists, and early Americans writing the New World; it destabilizes rigid notions of genre that exclude women, suggesting that genre is by nature fluid, inclusionary as well as exclusionary. To this end, I return into conversation understudied naturalists Maria Sybilla Merian, Jane Colden, and Eliza Pinckney, who physically and figuratively toiled on the peripheries of transatlantic institutional science, and reimagine the early republican novels of Leonora Sansay and Susanna Rowson as hybrid natural histories. I explore how women’s complicated negotiations and performances of gender and genre (conventions) expose gender and genre’s dynamic interplay and this interplay’s role in crafting alternate visions of the Americas. I argue that women naturalists evolved the genre by disrupting imperial modes of knowledge production to arrive at these alternate visions. My first chapter pairs German entomologist Maria Sybilla Merian (1647-1717) with Dutch soldier John Gabriel Stedman (1744-1797), whose natural histories of Surinam underscore the genre’s radical transformations over the course of the eighteenth century and expose the fundamentally different investments of female and male naturalists (regeneration/production and consumption, respectively). I interrogate the gendered lenses through which Merian and Stedman narrate ecologic changes, especially in light of a Surinamese topography that enabled the “stable chaos” of constant slave marronage, a condition that paradoxically preserved parts of the pre-colonization landscape. In Chapter Two, I trace the parallel career trajectories of two colonials, Jane Colden (1724-1766) and William Bartram (1739-1823), who begin as gender-marked objects in their fathers’ transatlantic correspondence, but become subjects through their botanic practice. My chapter probes how Colden and Bartram differently channel ecologic impulses through their depictions of the upstate New York wilderness and the Southeast; I argue that Colden’s ecologic sensibility is more highly developed than Bartram’s, whose proto-nationalism compromises this sensibility. Chapter Three compares republican mother and indigo planter Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1793) with surveyor and statesman William Byrd II (1674-1744). I argue that Pinckney and Byrd engage a “colonial regionalism” to creatively “map” both the regional instability of the South Carolina lowcountry and the Virginia/North Carolina borderlands and their own fluid creole identities. The autobiographical nature of their work enables proto-national readings and marks an evolution of the genre toward narrative, and ultimately, toward even greater hybridity. Chapter Four explores how the early national “novels” of Leonora Sansay and Susanna Rowson, set fully or partly in the West Indies, appropriate the natural history in order to navigate what Sean Goudie calls “the creole complex.” I argue that neither Sansay nor Rowson is able to successfully mark the West Indies as distinct from the new nation; while Rowson attempts to disavow “paracolonial” relations, promoting a narrative of white American “creole regeneracy,” Sansay’s work is more ambivalent, suggesting that U.S.-Caribbean economic relations and the further creolization of whites may be unavoidable, and even necessary for the Republic.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Chapter Etheridge, Kay; (2011)
Maria Sibylla Merian: The First Ecologist? (/isis/citation/CBB001221547/) unapi

Book Melissa Bailes; (2017)
Questioning Nature: British Women's Scientific Writing and Literary Originality, 1750-1830 (/isis/citation/CBB476661069/) unapi

Book Todd, Kim; (2007)
Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis (/isis/citation/CBB000930388/) unapi

Article Garrido; (2017)
El estudio científico de los volcanes en la América colonial española (/isis/citation/CBB779333779/) unapi

Book Salvatore Califano; (2015)
Storia dell'alchimia: misticismo ed esoterismo all'origine della chimica moderna (/isis/citation/CBB559415425/) unapi

Article Judith A. Carney; (2015)
El origen africano del cultivo del arroz en Las Américas (/isis/citation/CBB710411818/) unapi

Article Dickenson, Victoria; Heaman, Elsbeth; (2008)
Introduction. Natural Science in the New World: The Descriptive Enterprise (/isis/citation/CBB001211513/) unapi

Book Gronim, Sara Stidstone; (2007)
Everyday Nature: Knowledge of the Natural World in Colonial New York (/isis/citation/CBB000773754/) unapi

Book Graham, Alan; (2011)
A Natural History of the New World: The Ecology and Evolution of Plants in the America (/isis/citation/CBB001251404/) unapi

Book Sandra Rebok; (2014)
Humboldt and Jefferson: A Transatlantic Friendship of the Enlightenment (/isis/citation/CBB956694560/) unapi

Thesis Pick, Cecilia Mary; (2004)
Rhetoric of the Author Presentation: The Case of Maria Sibylla Merian (/isis/citation/CBB001561779/) unapi

Article Roos, Anna Marie Eleanor; Edwin D. Rose; (2018)
Lives and Afterlives of the Lithophylacii Britannici Ichnographia (1699), The First Illustrated Field Guide to English Fossils (/isis/citation/CBB973730328/) unapi

Article Etheridge, Kay; (2011)
Maria Sibylla Merian and the Metamorphosis of Natural History (/isis/citation/CBB001210122/) unapi

Article Wragge-Morley, Alexander; (2010)
The Work of Verbal Picturing for John Ray and Some of His Contemporaries (/isis/citation/CBB001023397/) unapi

Book Fairman, Elisabeth R.; Art, Yale Center for British; (2014)
Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower: Artists' Books and the Natural World (/isis/citation/CBB001500458/) unapi

Book Attenborough, David; Owens, Susan; Clayton, Martin; Alexandratos, Rea; (2007)
Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery (/isis/citation/CBB000772794/) unapi

Article Judith A. Carney; (1998)
The Role of African Rice and Slaves in the History of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (/isis/citation/CBB654708668/) unapi

Book Julius Sherrard Scott; (2018)
The Common Wind: Afro-American currents in the age of the Haitian Revolution (/isis/citation/CBB631076423/) unapi

Authors & Contributors
Etheridge, Kay
Attenborough, David
Clayton, Martin
Owens, Susan
Alexandratos, Rea
Gronim, Sara Stidstone
Cuadernos Dieciochistas: revista consagrada al estudio de la historia, el pensamiento, la literatura, el arte y la ciencia del siglo XVIII
Intellectual History Review
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Scientia Canadensis: Journal of the History of Canadian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Human Ecology: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Asclepio: Archivo Iberoamericano de Historia de la Medicina
University of Virginia Press
Royal Collection
Rutgers University Press
University of Chicago Press
University of Texas at Austin
Natural history
Visual representation; visual communication
Scientific illustration
Women in science
Science and art
Merian, Maria Sibylla
Jefferson, Thomas
Humboldt, Alexander von
Leonardo da Vinci
Marshal, Alexander
Catesby, Mark
Time Periods
18th century
17th century
19th century
16th century
20th century
15th century
North America
South America
Great Britain
New York (U.S.)
Amsterdam (Netherlands)
Royal Society of London

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment