Transformable Race: Surprising Metamorphoses in the Literature of Early America

Hardcover | February 10, 2014

byKaty L. Chiles

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As surprising as it might seem now, during the late eighteenth century many early Americans asked themselves, "How could a person of one race come to be another?" Racial thought at the close of the eighteenth century differed radically from that of the nineteenth century, when the concept ofrace as a fixed biological category would emerge. Instead, many early Americans thought that race was an exterior bodily trait, incrementally produced by environmental factors and continuously subject to change. While historians have documented aspects of eighteenth-century racial thought, Transformable Race is the first scholarly book that identifies how this thinking informs the figurative language in the literature of this crucial period. It argues that the notion of "transformable race" structured howearly American texts portrayed the formation of racial identities. Examining figures such as Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Franklin, Samson Occom, and Charles Brockden Brown, Transformable Race demonstrates how these authors used language emphasizing or questioning the potential malleability ofphysical features to explore the construction of racial categories.

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As surprising as it might seem now, during the late eighteenth century many early Americans asked themselves, "How could a person of one race come to be another?" Racial thought at the close of the eighteenth century differed radically from that of the nineteenth century, when the concept ofrace as a fixed biological category would eme...

Katy L. Chiles is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:336 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.98 inPublished:February 10, 2014Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199313504

ISBN - 13:9780199313501

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Surprising Metamorphoses1. Becoming Colored in Occom and Wheatley's Early AmericaTo Make Samson Occom "So""To Make a Poet Black"2. The Political Bodies of Benjamin Franklin and Hendrick AupaumutYou Are What You Eat; or, Franklin's Practice Makes (Almost) PerfectHendrick Aupaumut's Own Color3. Transforming into Natives: Crevecoeur, Marrant, and Brown on Becoming IndianPassing As, Transforming intoCrevecoeur's American RaceJohn Marrant Becoming CherokeeEdgar Huntly's Unsettling Transformation4. Doubting Transformable Race: Equiano, Brackenridge, and the Textuality of Natural HistoryTo Quote and to Question: Olaudah Equiano's Provocative EndsBrackenridge and the Limits of Writing Natural HistoryEpilogue: Interiorizing Racial Metamorphosis: The Algerine Captive's Language of SympathyNotes