Mindful of their Bellies and gullets: Anatomical imagery in English Colonization

In: Journal of Early American History
Jason R. Sellers University of Mary Washington,

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This essay examines the anatomical language that appears in 16th- and 17th-century English travel narratives, which authors used to portray efforts to colonize North America as a series of encounters between an American continental body and the English nation. Imagery related to the digestive tract marked struggling or failed efforts, while reproductive and marital imagery described successful ventures or encouraged new ones. The imprecision of early modern anatomical terms left them versatile enough to appear in relation to both digestive and reproductive images, allowing English observers contrasting colonial projects to provide lessons about proper modes of colonization. Anatomical language thus provided English authors with a mechanism for representing the changing nature of England’s encounter with the American continental body, redirecting anxieties about the dangers America posed into confidence about the continent’s productive potential, and England’s future on its lands.

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