Theses Doctoral

Translated Conquests: Archive, History, and Territory in Hemispheric Literatures, 1823-1854

Van Tine, Mary Lindsay

“Translated Conquests” recovers the deep linkages between New World texts and territories to offer a new understanding of the relationship of literature to empire in the nineteenth-century United States. When Columbus planted a flag on a Bahamian beach, it was the notary in the background who transformed his performance of possession into legal truth; from this moment forward, Spanish empire relied on paper “instruments” to claim and administer New World territories. I reconstruct the forgotten history of how, as Spain lost its hold on these American territories in the nineteenth century, much of the material archive of its colonization project was relocated from the past seat of New World empire to the future one—the United States. While the hemispheric turn in American literary studies made it a commonplace that the nineteenth-century narrative appropriation of Spanish “discovery” and “conquest” ran parallel to the territorial appropriation of former Spanish possessions, my project reveals that these processes were materially linked through an inherited archive that authorized both truth-claims and land claims.
Bringing methods drawn from book history to bear on hemispheric studies, “Translated Conquests” traces the circulation of these material texts—ranging from colonial titles and portolan charts to relaciones and manuscript histories—to demonstrate that their accumulation in the United States underwrote claims to hemispheric history and territory in the expansionist period between the Monroe Doctrine (1823) and the Gadsden Purchase (1854). By grounding hemispheric studies in material flows, my project offers a revised conceptual framework that situates nineteenth-century U.S. imperialism within the longue durée of an entangled Atlantic World. Novelists, historians, and translators including Washington Irving, Robert Montgomery Bird, William Hickling Prescott, and Buckingham Smith refashioned Spanish history as the prehistory of the United States, but their nationalist works emerged from a transnational network that included London antiquarian and bookdealer Obadiah Rich, Spanish scholar Martín Fernández de Navarrete, and Mexican historians Carlos María de Bustamante and José Fernando Ramírez. As they claimed newly-available sources, all of these authors entered into a centuries-old debate over how to write the history of the New World, questioning which genres and media counted as reliable evidence and what kinds of claims they authorized. My readings of how the archive both materially enables and is figured in these works offers a revised understanding of the relationship between claiming history and claiming territory in the nineteenth-century United States.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Adams, Rachel E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 4, 2016