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The problem of assessing Thomas Harriot's A briefe and true report of his discoveries in North America

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Recent influential criticisms attack the reputation of Thomas Harriot by citing the contents of his ethnographic and economic survey, A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia , first published in 1588. This interpretation makes Harriot, together with Shakespeare and others, agents of a colonialist project. But profound differences are indicated in the comparison of the relatively unbiased depiction and analysis by Harriot and his artist collaborator John White with the interpretations of America and Americans by some of their contemporaries. A briefe and true report conveys, and John White's drawings support, insight into particular non-European features of the cultural and economic lives of the Algonquian peoples. On the contrary, Captain Arthur Barlowe's Discourse and the illustrations by Theodore de Bry for the 1600 edition of Harriot's book instance romanticizing, stereotyping, and unanalytic condescension very unlike Harriot's and White's. These differences prove the faultiness of the recent assessment.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of English, Goldsmiths' College, University of London, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW, U.K.

Publication date: 1994-01-01

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