Coral in Early American Literature, Science, and Culture

This book, supported by a 2017-18 NEH Fellowship, will be a cultural history of coral in early America.

Liquid Landscape:
Geography and settlement at the Edge of Early America

Liquid Landscape, which has just been published with the University of Pennsylvania Press, explores how early Americans responded to the prospect of taking root on earth that shifts, seeps, expands, and erodes. Using the case of Florida's porous landscape, I show that unstable ground has always contributed to the complex history of American founding, mostly by raising large conceptual questions about root-taking that had wide-ranging political and cultural implications for a country seeking to expand over and beyond the continent. Focusing on Anglo-American and American reflections on Florida’s local landscape and populations from Revolution through Reconstruction, Liquid Landscape assembles a widely circulating, yet largely unexamined, archive that includes settlers’ guides, captivity narratives, military accounts of the Seminole Wars, continental maps, natural histories, tales of adventure, coastal and inland surveys, and works by canonical authors such as William Bartram, James Fenimore Cooper, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. These and other materials attest that local Floridian features such as saturated swamps, shifting shorelines, coral reefs, tiny keys, and various native and non-native populations were more than local in meaning to Americans. Ultimately, they provoked people all over the country to engage with some of the most pressing questions about place, personhood, and belonging that animated American culture and literature during the period under consideration.