Fatal Revolutions

Fatal Revolutions: Natural History, West Indian Slavery, and the Routes of American Literature

Christopher P. Iannini
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807838181_iannini
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  • Book Info
    Fatal Revolutions
    Book Description:

    Drawing on letters, illustrations, engravings, and neglected manuscripts, Christopher Iannini connects two dramatic transformations in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world--the emergence and growth of the Caribbean plantation system and the rise of natural science. Iannini argues that these transformations were not only deeply interconnected, but that together they established conditions fundamental to the development of a distinctive literary culture in the early Americas. In fact, eighteenth-century natural history as a literary genre largely took its shape from its practice in the Caribbean, an oft-studied region that was a prime source of wealth for all of Europe and the Americas.The formal evolution of colonial prose narrative, Ianinni argues, was contingent upon the emergence of natural history writing, which itself emerged necessarily from within the context of Atlantic slavery and the production of tropical commodities. As he reestablishes the history of cultural exchange between the Caribbean and North America, Ianinni recovers the importance of the West Indies in the formation of American literary and intellectual culture as well as its place in assessing the moral implications of colonial slavery.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0192-2
    Subjects: History, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xi)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Abbreviations and Short Titles
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    In February of 1797, Pierre-Louis Baudry des Lozières, recently arrived from the turbulent port city of Cap Français, Saint-Domingue, delivered an address to the American Philosophical Society. Entitled “A Memoir onAnimal Cotton;or, The InsectFly-Carrier,” his essay found a receptive audience. Philadelphians were hungry for all manner of news from Saint-Domingue, which, before the outbreak of a massive slave insurrection in 1791, had been a leading trading partner of the early Republic. The form and content of Baudry’s address enhanced its appeal. Composed at a pivotal moment in the history of the Atlantic world, as people throughout Europe...

  7. PART I. THE NATURE OF SLAVERY

    • 1 Strange Things, Occult Relations: EMBLEM AND NARRATIVE IN HANS SLOANE’S VOYAGE TO . . . JAMAICA
      (pp. 35-74)

      Hans Sloane’s natural history of Jamaica begins with the fascination of things. Printed in two folio volumes in 1707 and 1725, theVoyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers, and Jamaicaopens by recalling the childhood origins of Sloane’s desire to travel to the sugar islands. Writing amid his collections of West Indian curiosities, some eighteen years after his tenure in Jamaica, the author reflects:

      I had from my Youth been very much pleas’d with the Study of Plants, and other Parts of Nature, and had seen most of those Kinds of Curiosities, which were to be found...

    • 2 Fatal Latitudes: THE POETICS OF WEST INDIAN “IMPROVEMENT” IN MARK CATESBY’S NATURAL HISTORY OF CAROLINA, FLORIDA, AND THE BAHAMA ISLANDS
      (pp. 75-128)

      Even an initial consideration of Mark Catesby’s engraving of “Green Tree Frog and Arum Americanum” (Plate 1) makes plain that it is a dramatic departure from the conventions of natural history illustration as established in Sloane’sVoyage to . . . Jamaica.The use of vivid color creates a distinctive visual impression, the crucial initial stage in a Lockean model for acquiring and transmitting knowledge. A life-sized rendering of a single green leaf fills the center background, providing a strong tonal complement for the purple flowers while framing and grounding the interaction between frog, insect, and plant.¹

      The accompanying description...

  8. PART II. REAPING THE EARLY REPUBLIC

    • 3 “The Itinerant Man”: CRÈVECOEUR’S CARIBBEAN, RAYNAL’S REVOLUTION, AND THE FATE OF ATLANTIC COSMOPOLITANISM
      (pp. 131-176)

      In 1782, two propitious events signaled the post-Revolutionary transformation of American culture and literature, each promising to crystallize a new sense of self-consciousness and tenuous interdependence in the former British colonies along the mainland. When a London publisher announced the availability ofLetters from an American Farmerby J. Hector St.John de Crèvecoeur in October, recent developments on the mainland were still poorly understood by readers throughout Europe and the colonial Americas as they assessed the potential impact of an independent United States on the future of New World settlement and commerce, including the circumatlantic exchange of knowledge and moral...

    • 4 “All the West-Indian Weeds”: WILLIAM BARTRAM’S TRAVELS AND THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE FLORIDAS
      (pp. 177-218)

      In 1766, having just returned from two productive years collecting specimens in East and West Florida, John Bartram penned a complaint to Peter Collinson: “I have left my son Billy in florida. nothing will do with him now but he will be A planter upon St. Johns river about 24 mile from Augustine and 6 from the fort of Picolata this frolic of his hath and our maintenance drove me to great straits.” Though exasperated by his son’s decision to establish a rice plantation in this dangerous region, which he had first visited with his father in 1765, the elder...

    • 5 Notes on the State of Virginia, the Haitian Revolution, and the Return of Epistolarity
      (pp. 219-252)

      In April of 1797, as Toussaint L’Ouverture was establishing control over the revolution on Saint-Domingue, Thomas Jefferson received a polite letter from one Alexandre Giroud in Cap Français. A geologist and mineralogist of some repute in France, Giroud had only recently been assigned to Saint-Domingue as part of the Third Civil Commission under Léger Félicité Sonthonax. Since the temporary abolition of slavery in 1793–1794, Giroud had worked with the activisthomme de couleur libreJulien Raimond, among others, to establish some limited form of multiracialegalitéandfraternitéon the island.¹

      Accompanying Giroud’s letter to Jefferson were several seeds of breadfruit, a species...

    • 6 The Birds of America and the Specter of Caribbean Accumulation
      (pp. 253-280)

      In 1834, as he approached the end of promoting, financing, and publishingThe Birds of America,John Audubon began his autobiography. The idea had intrigued him since beginning his career as a professional ornithologist more than a decade earlier. Between 1820 and 1822, while living in near-indigence in New Orleans, Audubon kept a detailed journal of his efforts to collect and paint New World birdlife. During his travels in England and Scotland in 1826, he maintained a similar record of his attempt to collect prominent subscribers. The task of self-representation was not limited to these explicitly autobiographical writings. In dozens...

  9. Epilogue HUMBOLDT’S HAVANA
    (pp. 281-288)

    It is a widely known but generally underappreciated fact that Alexander von Humboldt visited Cuba twice during his extensive travels in the Americas from 1799 to 1804. Hosted by Havana’s cosmopolitan scientific community and assisted throughout his travels by Aimé Bonpland, the celebrated naturalist and author compiled materials for what would become a fascinating physical and cultural geography of the island. Appearing first as part of hisVoyage aux régions équinoxiales du nouveau continent(1805–1834)—his thirty-volume narrative of his researches in the tropics— Humboldt’s writings on Cuba would be republished in a freestanding edition entitledEssai politique sur...

  10. Index
    (pp. 289-296)