American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



Early contact between Amerindian and European cultures in pre-colonial North America (1492-1620) has never before been submitted to systematic analysis on the basis of a close reading of primary source material. Beaux Gestes examines the early literature on cultural exchange in the context of emerging European expansion, and how the image of the American Indian was used to rationalize the colonization of the northern half of the New World.

The methodology of Beaux Gestes is thematic--various aspects of early exploration are examined before submitting a few narratives of an archetypal character to closer scrutiny. The texts are read with an eye to understanding unconscious cultural assumptions rather than the stylistic idiosyncrasies of particular individuals.

Integral to the study is an appraisal of how national or racial stereotypes are manipulated through the printed word to justify territorial expansion, whether practiced by the Church or the modern nation-state. Familiar stereotypes of Spaniard, Frenchman, Englishman and Indian are reconsidered as the fabricated models of particular historical schools with clear ideological agendas in the way they would tell early American history. Beaux Gestes examines not only the sources of such image-making, but also the historiographical issue of how much they have been tempered--or turned topsy-turvy--in the contemporary literature.

Finally, the study is placed in the context of America as an ideological creation--Columbus' discovery, the creation of the Republic, Manifest Destiny. It is only by perceiving the myth of America as the last, best hope for human Progress that the role of the Amerindian in the early promotional literature and explorers' tracts can be fully understood. Whether as "diabolical savage" or "trustworthy guide," the Indian, it is still thought, must either be conquered or educated to play an acceptable role in the inexorable pageant of the American Dream.



Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Sam B. Girgus

Second Committee Member

Donald D. Sullivan

Third Committee Member

Louis D. Owens

Fourth Committee Member

Peter L. White