“Printing Indians and the Imperial Contest in America”

I am currently in the process of tranforming my doctoral dissertation into a book manuscript. The dissertation builds on recent innovations in empires studies to argue that the visual and textual representation of Native Americans in print culture worked in dialogue to shape imperial identities among the diverse peoples of North America. I suggest that rather than forming through the commonly accepted colonizer/colonized model that theorizes the figure of the Indian as pure other, imperial identities in North America emerged through image-text patterns of triangulation that located Native Americans between empires. By placing icons and illustrations of Indians in conversation with the textual representations that circulated alongside them in transatlantic books and broadsides, the project shows that the representation of Native Americans in print culture not only shaped ideas of race that justify imperialism against indigenous peoples, but ideologies of racialized difference between imperial peoples. This approach further demonstrates that marginalized peoples such as Native Americans and African-Americans employed triangularity not only to resist imperialism, but sometimes to position themselves within North American imperial networks. “Printing Indians” thus suggests that print cultures shape imperial identities through vectors of racialized difference that simultaneously justify conquest of indigenous peoples and warfare between empires in the contest to become North America’s ultimate empire.

By studying this transatlantic system of signification as it evolved between King Philip’s War (1676) and the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War (1864), each chapter examines how Anglo-Americans, Native Americans, and Africans used image and text to animate hierarchies among racialized degrees of whiteness and redness. My first chapter examines how British metropolitans in London first introduced triangularity as a structure of racial representation during the eighteenth century in widely circulating prints like The Deplorable State of America (1765) and The Able Doctor (1774). I show that such prints represented the colonial political body through the allegorical figure of the Indian to subordinate British colonies through racial difference. The second chapter studies how captivity narratives, from those written by the Puritan Hannah Swarton (1697) to the free black creole John Marrant (1783), shaped multiple iterations of imperial identity by contrasts with both Native Americans and another imperial collective, such as the French or British Empires. Chapter three shows how in the early decades of the nineteenth century, William Apess utilized text and image in his Eulogy on King Philip (1836) to advance a radical conception of Native sovereignty within a multicultural North American empire. The dissertation culminates by analyzing how Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (1859) and George Catlin’s Last Rambles (1868) collapse empires triangles by using sculpture and illustrations to construct similarity between Native Americans and Africans, as well as between white empires. In doing so, Hawthorne and Catlin participate in a racial and imperial shift toward the triangulation of red, white, and black that would stabilize U.S. national identity following the upheaval of the Civil War. At the same time, they build and redirect new imperial triangles outward past the shores North American continent, to recalibrate the United States as a global empire.  

In order to expand and revise the project into a book manuscript publishable at a major university press, I plan to first first remove the dissertation’s fourth chapter, which concentrates on interactions between text and sculpture, and replace it with two new chapters that continue the earlier chapters’ focus on the interplay between text and image in the American Frontier novel and American history writing in the years approaching the U.S. Civil War. With these new chapters and strategic revisions to the earlier chapters, this book manuscript will gain a more comprehensive understanding of how image and text evolved to shape imperial identities through print culture from the colonial period to the conquest of Mexico, as well as deeper consideration of how changes in technology and materiality in engraving and book production during this period affected conceptions of race and empire in North American print cultures. 

Articles in progress:

“Empire's Image: Landscape and the (Re)Printed Indian”: According to the widely-accepted Anglicization theory of American colonial development an “imperial patriotism,” as T.H. Breen has put it, gradually emerged as colonists imagined themselves through an imperial identity that increasingly resembled that of their metropolitan counterparts. Ironically, the story goes, this desire among colonists to enjoy the same imperial position as metropolitans resulted in the American Revolution. Based on this thesis, we would presume this continuity in imperial identity to extend to the hierarchal relations with Native Americans. However, by analyzing the multimedia transformations within the circulation of an Indian Captivity narrative from the metropole of London to colonial New England, this paper offers a window into the contentious debates over the proper relation between Native Americans and Anglo-Saxons within the expansive transatlantic British Empire of the late eighteenth century.

I study these debates through This imperial narrative originated in the form of short story called “Adventures of a Young English Officer among the Abenaki Indians” in the The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle in London in 1763. It would be republished several times in the British Isles before travelling to Boston. There, in Bickerstaff’s Almanac in 1767, the story would be illuminated with a new dimension through a fine woodcut illustration. This woodcut, which graphically narrates a story of empire in its own right, would later be truncated by Mills for inclusion in his broadside of the Boston publisher Nathaniel Mills published a broadside titled “Mr. Occom’s Address to His Indian Brethren” in 1773. This essay examines each of these different publication events as distinct narratives of empire. Far from stable across time and geography, I argue, the conception of proper imperial relations between white and red peoples in North America proves to be shifting, contentious, and surprisingly local.

“’With Indian Eyes’: Hiram Power’s California and American Sculpture’s Unstable Empire”: In the first half of the nineteenth century, nearly every major American sculptor cast the Native American body in white marble, and according to neoclassical aesthetics. Scholars such as Vivien Green Fryd have shown that American neoclassical sculptures reproduce cultures of American imperialism grounded in racial difference between whites and Indians. In many ways, Hiram Powers California, modelled in 1850 but not cast in marble until 1858 serves as an illustrative example of how American sculptors embodied narratives of American empire within the iconography of sculpture. Scholars have yet to examine, however, how such depictions of Native Americans inadvertently undermined basic premises of racial difference between whites and Indians. This paper argues that despite Power's best efforts to create in California a statue that embodied the spirit of U.S. Manifest Destiny and Empire, he ultimately failed. By hewing so closely to neoclassical ideals, and neglecting to include satisfactory markers of redness, Powers unintentionally destabilized the racial difference that justified American empire. I am revising this essay based on a presentation that I delivered at the Fellow’s Lectures in American Art series at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.