Review of Describing Early America

Document Type

Book Review

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Early American Literature



Publication Date



In Describing Early America, Pamela Regis argues that the introduction of the Linnaean system in 1735 combined with prevalent cultural beliefs such as the Great Chain of Being to create a new rhetorical paradigm with special implications for natural historians in revolutionary America. Linnaeus's Systema Naturae provided scientists with a portable and immediately applicable method for classifying plants and animals, thus enabling collectors in the field to advance scientific learning directly, without recourse to experts in Europe. In addition to authorizing the American pursuit of science, the Linnaean system added static, noun-based naming procedures to existing verb-oriented narrative practices, enabling natural historians to combine the scientific observation of an unchanging natural order with accounts of their personal experiences as travelers and explorers. This union of cosmic timelessness and contingent personal experience, Regis argues, explains the rhetorical construction of such major eighteenth-century works as Bartram's Travels, Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, and Crévecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer.


Original Author is Pamela Regis

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