Date Thesis Awarded

4-2015

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

History

Advisor

Nicholas Popper

Committee Member

James Whittenburg

Committee Member

Brett Wilson

Abstract

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, English scholars and travelers created the first English studies of the environment and inhabitants of the New World. This thesis suggests that historical interpretation formed the intellectual foundations for English colonization in America. Writers applied their knowledge of the past to questions of why to colonize America, how to know the New World, and how to understand the Native Americans. These writers struggled to construct a biblical or classical genealogy to explain how the Native Americans had arrived in the New World and the identity of their ancestors. Debates over various historical narratives for America led to the belief that Native Americans did not possess a knowable or meaningful past. This viewpoint was a consequence of English scholarship, not an accurate assessment based on empirical observation. My thesis concludes that English scholars and travelers strategically invoked history to further their colonial goals and to shape perceptions of foreign peoples as incapable of historical progress.

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