Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities
2009—2010 Forum on Connections
The Voices of Cosmopolitanism in Eighteenth-Century American Literature
Voices of Cosmopolitanism considers how a number of early American writers employed the universalizing language of cosmopolitanism to engage in discussions of nationhood. These authors identified community through the dynamic relationship between the local contexts and the British and European metropolises, between local realities and universalizing ideals. The dynamic character of this identification provided a frame for writing one’s identity with different outcomes. On the one hand, individual and group identity reproduced representational and rhetorical techniques that aimed at subordinating any form of otherness within a unifying narrative centered in British culture. In this case, the “mankind” of the cosmopolitan ideal assumed the physical and cultural traits of the English. On the other hand, the dynamic features of the form that identity took within this context challenged the Britain-oriented metanarrative by dislocating it and by repositioning margins and centers within its frame. From this perspective, by looking at the works of writers such as Benjamin Franklin, Phillis Wheatley, Philip Mazzei, and others, I investigate the problematic intersections between elite and non-elite discourses, between the voices of those who had access to power and publication and those who had none, between print and manuscript forms, and between literary genres that emerge within the works of this diverse group of writers.