Since the 1990s, there has been a proliferation of studies that focus on Britain and Europe from the early modern period onward that are concerned with questions of identity, whether involving gender, class, nation, religion, politics, empire, colonialism, and, possibly the most ambiguous term of all, “race.” Srinivas Aravamudan has recently drawn our attention to the contribution of “Xenophobia, colonialism, orientalism and racism” to the “constitution of national identity” (10). This is certainly true of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as literary texts and cultural artifacts are placed in the context of what is described, in a recent collection of essays, as The Global Eighteenth Century. Its editor, Felicity A. Nussbaum, claims that the collection “resituates eighteenth-century studies within a spatially and conceptually expanded paradigm.” The contributors analyze “the European encounter with other populations throughout the world and offer ways to think critically about the imperative of that colonial project” (1). Similarly, another recent and influential collection of essays seeks to chart the terrain of a “new imperial history” discussing the problems of identity, modernity and difference in the long eighteenth century (Wilson 2003). My study works with similar notions of the relationships between literature and culture generally, although its focus and emphasis is more securely on the last decades of the eighteenth century and the early decades of the nineteenth. It is also more narrowly concerned with a specific idea or body of ideas and the ways that those ideas are delineated, applied, absorbed, contested, and problematized: the idea of race.


Eighteenth Century National Identity Early Nineteenth Century Romantic Period Literary Text 


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  1. 23.
    Smith’s ideas were challenged in the United States by the polygenist John Augustine Smith, “A Lecture introductory to the second Course of Anatomical Instruction in the College of Physicians and Surgeons for the State of New-York,” New York Medical and Philosophical Journal and Review 1 (1809): 32–48.Google Scholar

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© Peter J. Kitson 2007

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