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February 05 , 2010

Folded Selves

Colonial New England Writing in the World System


Folded Selves radically refigures traditional portraits of seventeenth-century New England literature and culture by situating colonial writing within the spatial, transnational, and economic contexts that characterized the early-modern “world system” theorized by Immanuel Wallerstein and others. Michelle Burnham rethinks American literary history and the politics of colonial dissent, and her book breaks new ground in making the economic relations of investment, credit, and trade central to this new framework for early American literary and cultural study.
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Transcontinental colonialism and mercantile capitalism underwrote not just the emerging world system but New World writing—suggesting that early modern literary aesthetics and the early modern economy helped to sponsor each other. Burnham locates in New England’s literature of dissent—from Ma-re Mount to the Salem witchcraft trials – a persistent use of economic language, as well as competing economies of style. The brilliance of Burnham’s study is that it exposes the transoceanic material and commercial concerns of colonial America’s literature and culture of dissent.

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