Constructing America: English Encounters with the New World and the Development of Colonial Discourse, 1492-1607

UoM administered thesis: Phd


This thesis explores English representations of America and Americans from the 'discovery' in 1492 to the establishment of the Jamestown colony in 1607. In examining this earlier period of English engagement with the New World, this thesis aims to illustrate the many ways that sixteenth-century understandings of America impacted the development of English colonial discourse, from shaping where colonies should be located, to influencing how native populations should be incorporated into colonising schemes. In particular, this thesis establishes two fundamental sixteenth-century approaches to the construction of English colonial ideology: the use of continental European portrayals of America that were manipulated and adapted to meet the discursive demands of early English projects in the New World and the selective appropriation of frameworks of knowledge, both old and new, that were employed in an attempt to explain the new lands across the Atlantic. The following chapters analyse the various processes by which an English colonial discourse, focused on America, came into being. This thesis assesses how English colonisers and explorers constructed the theory of empire using Old World frameworks of understanding, examines how explorative failures and an oscillating English religious, economic, and cultural landscape affected early English colonial discourse, and explores how the practicalities of English trade and settlement in the New World manifested themselves in descriptions of native appearance and behaviour and in accounts of the American environment. By employing a methodology of 'thick' contextualisation and close reading, and by interpreting travel narratives and colonial texts as sites where rhetoric, inter-textual influences, and cultural priorities converge, this thesis enhances historical understandings of the development of English colonial ideology. The formation of early English colonial discourse took place within an international framework of European rivalry and shared cultural heritage and a domestic context of fluctuating economic, political, and religious circumstances. This discourse, which was first articulated in the sixteenth century, was therefore the product of a complex process of assimilation, manipulation, colonial competition, and cultural appropriation.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2017