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Warfare, trade, and “Indians” in British literature, 1652-1711

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Title: Warfare, trade, and “Indians” in British literature, 1652-1711
Author(s): Craft, Peter C.
Director of Research: Markley, Robert
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Markley, Robert
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Neely, Carol; Pollock, Anthony; Stevens, Andrea
Department / Program: English
Discipline: English
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Eighteenth Century Restoration Indians
Abstract: My dissertation builds upon and challenges postcolonial interpretations of British perceptions of East and West “Indians” in the long eighteenth century. I argue that extremely popular voyage narratives during this period reflected and shaped British people’s tendency to view Mughal Indians as similar and in some ways even superior to Europeans. This special status, which was also accorded to the Chinese, did not extend to American “Indians.” I begin my study with the origins of the mistaken term “Indian” as applied to American Indians by European “discoverers” in the late fifteenth century. Although the indigenous peoples of the Americas continued to be called “Indians” by Europeans for centuries after Amerigo Vespucci realized Columbus had “found” a separate continent rather than a new route to India, I argue that British writers were keenly aware of the difference between “Indians” in the Eastern and Western hemispheres by the mid-seventeenth century. In fact, before the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, British men and women greatly admired a country that was far more wealthy, spacious, and militarily powerful than their own. The inhabitants of the Americas, however, were decimated by the European transmission of smallpox and lacked the military technology of India and Europe. Consequently, the European colonization of the Americas, and its accompanying devaluation of the native peoples, began much earlier and lasted much longer there than in India (where the British presence did not become significant until Robert Clive’s victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757). Peter Heylyn’s critically neglected 1652 _Cosmographie_ (eight editions before 1700), a collection of voyage narratives from sailors, merchants, and Jesuits that represented at least a century of European perceptions of the rest of the world, shows that a sharp distinction was made between, on the one hand, the “Indians” in the Americas and, on the other hand, the inhabitants of the Mughal Empire in India proper. Drawing also on representations of “Indians” in the works of canonical literary authors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries such as John Dryden, Richard Steele, and Henry Mackenzie, my dissertation provides a more nuanced account of the origins and (d)evolution of “Indian” stereotypes than scholars have to date.
Issue Date: 2010-05-14
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/15506
Rights Information: Copyright 2010 Peter C. Craft
Date Available in IDEALS: 2010-05-14
2012-05-15
Date Deposited: May 2010
 

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