Race and the Environment in Early American Literature


This website is the product of an independent study in Spring 2013. I designed and built the website from scratch using HTML and CSS, and I collaborated with Shewanda Riley in creating its content.

The aim of this website is to promote an increased knowledge of how race and the environment are interrelated in early American literary texts. As Ian Finseth argues about race and nature in his book Shades of Green: Visions of Nature in the Literature of American Slavery, 1770-1860, “As a dominant mode of understanding cultural difference, traditionally explained in terms of such ‘natural’ phenomena as biology, climate, and evolution, the category of race provides a means of exploring the relationships between culture and nature, as those relationships are represented in various texts” (10).

As a productive, but understudied, area from the standpoint of race studies, ecocriticism, and early American studies, this field of study provides a more complex exploration of how ideas, representations, and theories about race and the natural world were essential in early American thought. It also works against the concept of a binary understanding of culture and nature – revealing the two concepts to be mutually constitutive.

Our examination of texts begins with John Smith’s “A Description of New England” from 1616 and extends to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay “Nature.” While the texts included on the site are representative texts from this time frame, we realize that this is not anywhere near an exhaustive list. Our intention is to provide a starting point for people and a resource for those interested in engaging in further study.