Literature of Exploration and Cultural Encounters

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In England in the sixteenth century a new genre of writing emerged, that of collected travel, reflective of the nation’s interests in, and determination to share, the rich natural resources and trading opportunities that overseas exploration and colonial encounter could provide for Europeans. Excluded from new territories ‘beyond the line’ by the Pope’s reservation in 1493 of the unknown world for Spain and Portugal, the English response was both to scrap and plunder and to announce their aspirations for territory and trade through textual activities. Richard Hakluyt’s massive collection of accounts of travel and exploration The Principal Navigations (1589, 2nd expanded edition 1598-1600) is key to understanding the development of England’s ambitions for commercial and colonial expansion in the period. These volumes changed the geopolitical landscape through their advocacy of English exploits in a world of increasingly global competition. The practice of travel for early moderns was undertaken by only a small percentage of the population, because of its expense, and the strict requirements governing the purpose of travel. Yet, by the turn of the seventeenth century, people and goods were in motion across lands and seas to distances and on scales hardly imaginable just a century before. As a result, accounts of travel and voyaging at home and abroad, such as Hakluyt’s collection, and works of literature engaging with, and critiquing them, became the most popular and easily accessible sources of information about this newly envisage-able wider world for a nation of armchair travellers. The essay concludes with a brief overview of the ways exploration and cultural encounter emerged as key themes in late sixteenth-century literature, including plays.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGale Researcher
Subtitle of host publicationEnglishness: Nation, Languages, Literatures
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2017

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