The Maritime Travel-Book and the Collective Imagination


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project considers a set of colonial maritime exploration narratives, focusing on eighteenth-century Anglophone travel-books but bearing closely in mind the longue durée of the genre in Portuguese, English, and Spanish since the sixteenth century. It traces ways that readers articulated their relationship to national identity, inflected by race, gender, and class, with the physical books they used. It focuses on the English and Portuguese traditions, since those national identities were often associated with maritime expansion, and identifies key social technologies in sea-travel books that facilitate collective identification: the predominance of narration in the first-person plural, images that impress upon the reader the hazard and difficulty of navigation, and paratexts that enable nonlinear, self-directed reading. As readers read these books, they left traces of their reading in their papers and in the margins, including themselves in the capacious “we” of the ship’s crew and, by extension, of the nation.