Date of Award

Winter 2011

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Eliga H Gould


This dissertation is the story of how the English wrote the history of America between c. 1500 and c. 1700. Utilizing printed and manuscript sources, it argues that writing American history allowed English writers to navigate, negotiate, and contest the terms of a developing Atlantic empire. In doing so, the English created a vision of America to compete with the dominant Spanish narrative by the end of the seventeenth century.

The existence of America gave the English an opportunity to explore the prospect of overseas empire. After the Columbian encounter, English thinkers and writers transformed their historical methodology to accommodate the existence of America and write its history in a distinctive English fashion. By the middle of the sixteenth century, Anglo-American histories imagined an English America in a Spanish Atlantic world. Translating Spanish-American texts and verifying them using humanist principles allowed the English to metaphysically construct the New World on their own terms. During the reign of Elizabeth, English writers began to carve their own space in America outside the dominion of the Spanish, both physically and textually, as they invented an English America. In the seventeenth century, the historical methods crafted by English scholars to deal with America began to clash with the experience English colonists were gaining in the Anglo-American colonies. The narratives they created stressed English authority to settle the New World and the importance of establishing a permanent presence in America. By the end of the century, a new imperial history developed in England in response to anti-American sentiments at home. Their arguments, which stressed the economic benefits of American empire to the detriment of colonists' agency in creating those benefits, pushed colonial writers to construct their own histories of America in an attempt to define more favorable terms of empire. The American histories they crafted on both sides of the Atlantic began to find a continental readership, competing directly with the dominant Spanish-American narrative.