David Alff

Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanities

20102011 Forum on Virtuality

David Alff


Public Works, National Futures: Projecting Early Modern England

In seventeenth century England, the term “projecting” designated a variety of activities associated with improving management of the nation’s financial, agricultural, and infrastructural resources, from orchard cultivation and fen drainage to the repair of highways and the establishment of a national bank. My research analyzes how projecting writings imagined a virtual reconstruction of English topography and polity in this period. Through close readings of project proposals by writers like Walter Blith, Carew Reynel, and Andrew Yarranton, and consideration of moments where projecting topoi surface in the more canonical writings of Defoe, Milton,  Astell, and Dryden, I seek to understand early modern England’s preoccupation with what a speculative investment of physical and cognitive labor in public works could produce for a collective future.