Visions of Nature in the Literature of American Slavery, 1770-1860
by Ian Frederick Finseth
University of Georgia Press, 2009
nature writing of the early 19th century and antebellum periods was
heavily influenced by and a contributor to issues of race and
slavery that led to the Civil War. This volume by historian Ian
Frederick Finseth examines how scientific, spiritual and cultural
definitions of "nature" helped sway public opinion during this critical
the era of New World slavery, we find a widespread literary and
cultural endeavor to define racial identity and social relations
through strategic representations of nature and of human relations to
nature," Finseth explains. American abolitionism was at the center of
this effort during the period covered in his book, 1770-1860, but it
was by no means well organized or even deliberate. Antislavery writers
of many stripes were making the case, in one form or another, that
human beings were a single species separate from other animals and that
all races of the human family were entitled to certain natural rights,
such as freedom.
Nature appears sometimes as a place of order, beauty, and truth, and sometimes as a place of.chaos and violence. It may represent freedom and opportunity or constraint and necessity. Nature has been regarded simultaneously as the fount and the byproduct of human history. Human beings imagine thmselves as part of nature, subject to its norms, and as separate from and superior to it.
||Drawing from such disparate primary sources as Hermann Melville's "Typee" and Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to Frederick Douglass' "My Bondage and My Freedom" and the journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Finseth carefully documents an undeclared "war of words and images"
that has received scant scholarly attention. Provocative and revealing,
this volume recounts rhetorical strategies of the 19th century that may
have contemporary applications in the environmental movement.