In 1664, French Jesuit Louis Nicolas arrived in Quebec. Upon first hearing Ojibwe, Nicolas observed that he had encountered the most barbaric language in the world--but after listening to and studying approximately fifteen Algonquian languages over a ten-year period, he wrote that he had "discovered all of the secrets of the most beautiful languages in the universe." Please join us for a conversation about the way in which colonists in North America struggled to understand, translate, and interpret Native American languages, and the significance of these languages for theological and cosmological issues such as the origins of Amerindian populations, their relationship to Eurasian and Biblical peoples, and the origins of language itself.
Through a close analysis of previously overlooked texts, Unscripted America places American Indian languages within transatlantic intellectual history, while also demonstrating how American letters emerged in the 1810s through 1830s via a complex and hitherto unexplored engagement with the legacies and aesthetic possibilities of indigenous words. Sarah Rivett contends that what scholars have more traditionally understood through the Romantic ideology of the noble savage, a vessel of antiquity among dying populations, was in fact a palimpsest of still-living indigenous populations whose presence in American literature remains traceable through words. By examining the foundation of the literary nation through language, writing, and literacy, Unscripted America revisits common conceptions regarding "early america" and its origins to demonstrate how the understanding of America developed out of a steadfast connection to American Indians, both past and present.
Sarah Rivett is Associate Professor of English at Princeton University and the author of The Science of the Soul in Colonial New England, which won the Brewer Prize of the American Society of Church History. Sean Wilentz is Professor of the American Revolutionary Era at Princeton and the author of many influential books, including The Rise of American Democracy and The Politicians and the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics.
Co-sponsored by Princeton University's Humanities Council