Describing Early America is a study of William Bartram's Travels, Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, and J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer that situates them within two important intellectual traditions: the literature of travel and the science of natural history. Pamela Regis contends that the travel genre provided the narrative framework on which these texts were built, but that natural history offered much more: a way of looking at the world, a way of describing what the authors saw, and an overarching scheme in which to fit what they had seen.
Prologue: Recovering a Lost Paradigm
1. Natural History in Context
2. Description and Narration in Bartram's Travels
3. Jefferson and the Department of Man
4. Crèvecoeur's "Curious observations of the naturalist"
5. The Passing of Natural History and the Literature of Place
"Regis offers a valuable and challenging revision of contemporary understanding of her subjects' literary purposes and the place of these texts in American literary history."—American Literature
"So much has been written about Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, William Bartram's Travels, and St. John de Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer that one might suppose that nothing new could be said about them. Yet, drawing on modes of analysis supplied by writers as diverse as Edmund Burke, Arthur O. Lovejoy, Michel Foucault, and Clifford Geertz, Pamela Regis has constructed an interpretive context which views these well-known texts from a new perspective."—Times Higher Education Supplement
"Regis makes an important contribution to the understanding of eighteenth-century American ideas."—William & Mary Quarterly