Before the West Was West


Before the West Was West

Critical Essays on Pre-1800 Literature of the American Frontiers

Edited and with an introduction by Amy T. Hamilton and Tom J. Hillard
Foreword by Michael P. Branch

376 pages
1 map


November 2014


$70.00 Add to Cart

November 2014


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

November 2014


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

November 2014


$30.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Before the West Was West examines the extent to which scholars have engaged in-depth with pre-1800 “western” texts and asks what we mean by “western” American literature in the first place and when that designation originated.

Calling into question the implicit temporal boundaries of the “American West” in literature, a literature often viewed as having commenced only at the beginning of the 1800s, Before the West Was West explores the concrete, meaningful connections between different texts as well as the development of national ideologies and mythologies. Examining pre-nineteenth-century writings that do not fit conceptions of the Wild West or of cowboys, cattle ranching, and the Pony Express, these thirteen essays demonstrate that no single, unified idea or geography defines the American West. 

Contributors investigate texts ranging from the Norse Vinland Sagas and Mary Rowlandson’s famous captivity narrative to early Spanish and French exploration narratives, an eighteenth-century English novel, and a play by Aphra Behn. Through its examination of the disparate and multifaceted body of literature that arises from a broad array of cultural backgrounds and influences, Before the West Was West apprehends the literary West in temporal as well as spatial and cultural terms and poses new questions about “westernness” and its literary representation.

Author Bio

Amy T. Hamilton is an associate professor of English at Northern Michigan University.

Tom J. Hillard is an associate professor of English at Boise State University.

Michael P. Branch is professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the editor of Reading the Roots: American Nature Writing Before Walden.


"Before the West Was West marks a productive step back to the future."—Keri Holt, Western Historical Quarterly

"By asking early Americanists to understand that they can also be westernists, and by asking westernists to understand their work as early, Hamilton and Hillard compel scholars in both fields to continue testing the intersections and assumptions of their disciplines."—Edward Watts, Early American Literature

“The insights into the ‘when’ of the American West offered by this book are both timely and essential to our further understanding of how cultures developed in the contact zones of the northern parts of the western hemisphere.”—Nicolas S. Witschi, coeditor of Dirty Words in Deadwood: Literature and the Postwestern

Table of Contents

Foreword by Michael P. Branch    
Introduction: Reconsidering the “When” of the West    
1. From Hunahpu to Hiawatha: The Passion of Corn and the Sublimation of Violence in Native American Mythmaking    
Paul G. Zolbrod
2. When the East Was West: Vinland in the American Imaginary    
Annette Kolodny
3. Accommodating Presence: Esteban, Fray Marcos, and the Problem of Literary Translation on the American Frontier    
Cassander L. Smith
4. Captured by Genre: Mary Rowlandson’s Western Imagination on the Nineteenth-Century Frontier    
John David Miles
5. The Royal Frontier: Colonist and Native Relations in Aphra Behn’s Virginia    
Rebecca M. Lush
6. Frontier Commonwealths: Violence, Private Interest, and the Public Good in Hennepin’s A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America     
David J. Peterson
7. The Bad Guys Wear Tricornered Hats: The Villasur Massacre of 1720 and the Segesser II Hide Painting in Spanish and French Colonial Literature    
Gordon M. Sayre
8. The Removes of Harriot Stuart: Charlotte Lennox and the Birth of the Western    
Marta Kvande and Sara Spurgeon
9. Contrast and Contradiction: The Emergent West in Crèvecoeur’s Regional Theory    
Tara Penry
10. The Business of Heaven and Earth: Toponymy and the Imperial Idyll in the Domínguez-Escalante Journal of 1776    
George English Brooks
11. An Eighteenth-Century Narrative of Encounter in the Trans-Mississippi West: Jean-Baptiste Trudeau on the Missouri River
Robert Woods Sayre
12. Harmonizing the “West”: Jefferson’s Account of Louisiana and American Identity    
Renaud Contini

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