“No Newe Enterprize”: Empirical Political Science and the Problem of Innovation in the Colonial English Americas


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project argues that elites in England’s seventeenth-century North American and Caribbean colonies developed a discourse of empirical political science grounded in eyewitness reportage in order to combat rebellion, or what writers in the period pejoratively called political innovation. Representational techniques borrowed from natural science—first-hand observation, detailed description, inductive interpretation—aided colonial leaders in predicting and thwarting the various forms of innovation threatening their settlements: mutiny, heresy, native warfare, slave insurrection. But this rigorous literary empiricism also brought to the fore the very anticolonial critique it was intended to silence. This critique focused on colonialism's elite-sponsored departures from precedent, including repressive new political, religious, and economic arrangements. The dissertation reframes the study of political writing by looking beyond the abstract, deductive genre of political philosophy, relocates the controversial right to innovate at the heart of emergent definitions of sovereignty, and recasts anticolonial rebellion as reactionary rather than radical.