Early Modern Cultural Studies is an interdisciplinary series that examines a wide range of aesthetic works and moments in their original cultural milieu. The series is interested in questions about a rapidly changing world where politics, religion, national identity, and gender roles were all subjects of contestation and redefinition, focusing on a broad definition of the early modern period which encompasses the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. This month there are two new additions to the series.
Popular English travel guides from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries asserted that women who wandered too far afield were invariably suspicious, dishonest, and unchaste. As the essays in Travel and Travail reveal, however, early modern women did travel, often quite extensively, with no diminution of their moral fiber. Female travelers were also frequently represented on the English stage and in other creative works, both as a reproach to the ban on female travel and as a reflection of historical women’s travel, whether intentional or not.
Edited by Patricia Akhimie and Bernadette Andrea, the essays in Travel and Travail conclusively refute the notion of female travel in the early modern era as “an absent presence.”
Edward MacLean Test’s work also considers travel on a larger scale. The Western and Eastern Hemispheres, brought together by sailing ships for the first time on a large scale, helped create the global landscape we take for granted today. Central to this formative moment in global history were New World plants. The agriculture of indigenous peoples mythically and materially shaped English society and, subsequently, its literature in new and startling ways.
Sacred Seeds examines New World plants—tobacco, amaranth, guaiacum, and the prickly pear cactus—and their associated Native myths as they moved across the Atlantic and into English literature. Test reinstates the contributions of indigenous peoples to European society, charting an alternative cultural history.