Trans-Atlantic Literature and Commodity Culture
My presentation will raise two questions: what does it mean to read literature within a trans-Atlantic theoretical framework and how do we understand literature's relationship to the transatlantic commodity culture (e.g., tobacco, rice, indigo, sugar, etc.)? I will focus on the 18th century and the popular poetry and travel narratives that explicitly responded to changing economic circumstances. My presentation will expose the audience to literature that they probably have never heard of before, but it will also address broad themes. There is considerable debate within English and history departments about the questions I am raising, and the theoretical distinction between the word "trans-Atlantic" (with a hyphen) and "transatlantic" is part of that debate. To give you an idea of the currency of these questions, a new interdisciplinary journal called Atlantic Studies was created about eight years ago and a special international seminar on Atlantic history was begun at Harvard University about fifteen years ago to more fully address the topic.