Taking Henry David Thoreau’s ‘nature’ writing as a point of departure, my paper investigates the complex, often ambiguous relations between concepts of nature and culture in the American Renaissance. I am interested particularly in the uses of natural places as sites of new beginnings: philosophically, culturally, and also politically. If the landscape at Walden Pond figures in Thoreau’s imagination as a site of both individual and national regeneration, the woods along Tackahoe Creek or Chesapeake Bay in Frederick Douglass’s autobiography are equally loaded with cultural meaning. While being translated into art (that is, literary texts) these sites not only become inscribed with complex cultural meanings; they also project ‘anti-geographies’ that question our traditional perception of nature and thereby enable us to envision a new beginning, a reshaping of human relations and American society at large.
In the humanities, the term ‘diaspora’ recently emerged as a promising and powerful heuristic concept. It challenged traditional ways of thinking and invited reconsiderations of theoretical assumptions about the unfolding of cross-cultural and multi-ethnic societies, about power relations, frontiers and boundaries, about cultural transmission, communication and translation. The present collection of essays by renowned writers and scholars addresses these issues and helps to ground the ongoing debate about the African diaspora in a more solid theoretical framework. Part I is dedicated to a general discussion of the concept of African diaspora, its origins and historical development. Part II examines the complex cultural dimensions of African diasporas in relation to significant sites and figures, including the modes and modalities of creative expression from the perspective of both artists/writers and their audiences; finally, Part III focusses on the resources (collections and archives) and iconographies that are available today. As most authors argue, the African diaspora should not be seen merely as a historical phenomenon, but also as an idea or ideology and an object of representation. By exploring this new ground, the essays assembled here provide important new insights for scholars in American and African-American Studies, Cultural Studies, Ethnic Studies, and African Studies. The collection is rounded off by an annotated listing of black autobiographies.
America's sense of space has always been tied to what Hayden White called the narrativization of real events. If the awe-inspiring manifestations of nature in America (Niagara Falls, Virginia's Natural Bridge, the Grand Canyon, etc.) were often used as a foil for projecting utopian visions and idealizations of the nation's exceptional place among the nations of the world, the rapid technological progress and its concomitant appropriation of natural spaces served equally well, as David Nye argues, to promote the dominant cultural idiom of exploration and conquest.
From the beginning, American attitudes towards space were thus utterly contradictory if not paradoxical; a paradox that scholars tried to capture in such hybrid concepts as the middle landscape (Leo Marx), an engineered New Earth (Cecelia Tichi), or the technological sublime (David Nye). Not only was America's concept of space paradoxical, it has always also been a contested terrain, a site of continuous social and cultural conflict. Many foundational issues in American history (the dislocation of Native and African Americans, the geo-political implications of nation-building, immigration and transmigration, the increasing division and clustering of contemporary American society, etc.) involve differing ideals and notions of space. Quite literally, space and its various ideological appropriations formed the arena where America's search for identity (national, political, cultural) has been staged. If American democracy, as Frederick Jackson Turner claimed, is born of free land, then its history may well be defined as the history of the fierce struggles to gain and maintain power over both the geographical, social and political spaces of America and its concomitant narratives.
The number and range of topics, interests, and critical approaches of the essays gathered here open up exciting new avenues of inquiry into the tangled, contentious relations of space in America. Topics include: Theories of Space - Landscape / Nature - Technoscape / Architecture / Urban Utopia - Literature - Performance / Film / Visual Arts.