Red, White, and White: Native Americans, Britons, and American Imperial Identity, 1676–1861
This dissertation examines how the representation of Native Americans in literary and visual culture played a central role in the development of an American identity between King Philip’s War (1676) and the U.S. Civil War (1861). Rather than rearticulating the binary model of savagism versus civilization commonly accepted by scholars of this period, my dissertation argues that an American imperial identity emerged from a triangular, racially-inflected system that relied on the representation of Native Americans in print culture in order to create and regulate difference between rival white empires. I analyze how Native Americans resisted and redirected this racial dynamic through print culture to assert their own tribal nationalisms.
My dissertation traces the development of this transatlantic system through the interaction of visual and textual depiction of Native Americans, as produced, reproduced, and modified in the material form of books and engravings, from its initial stages in the late seventeenth century through the Civil War. My first chapter examines how British metropolitans in London first introduced this pattern of racial representation in widely circulating prints like The Great Financier (1763) and The Able Doctor (1774), which deployed a combination of visual and textual representations of Native Americans to symbolize their American colonists. My second chapter shows that during the Revolutionary War, Americans redirected this structure against Britons by using frontispieces and illustrations in re-publications of early eighteenth-century Indian captivity narratives like Elizabeth Hanson’s God’s Mercy Surrounding Man’s Cruelty (1728), alongside narratives that portray British captivity of Americans, such as John Dodge’s Narrative of His Captivity at Detroit (1780). My third chapter shows how, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, Pequot writer and orator William Apess utilized text and image to contest this triangular system of imperial identity formation in his Eulogy on King Philip (1836). My dissertation culminates with a reading of the way that Nathaniel Hawthorne, on the eve of the Civil War, used conventions of neoclassical sculpture in The Marble Faun (1860) to destabilize this transnational triangle and flatten racial difference between American and rival white imperial identities. The Marble Faun initiates a shift from triangularity toward the racial binary of white Americans versus Native Americans with which we are more familiar today. As a corollary to analyzing the formation of imperial identities in early American print culture, my dissertation recovers a reading experience that recognizes the interdependence of the visual and textual in early North America.