Indography pp 71-83 | Cite as

Trafficking in Tangomóckomindge

Ethnographic Materials in Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report
  • Kevin Boettcher
Part of the Signs of Race book series (SOR)


For the last 30 years, critical discussions of Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Reporte of the New-Found Land of Virginia (1588) have tended to ignore substantial portions of the original text and gravitate toward its portrayal of the Algonquian. For most critics, the early sections of the text, including a somewhat lengthy address to the reader and more than two sections of meticulous details about the “marchauntable commodities” to be found in Virginia at best serve as stopovers on the way to readings of English-Algonquian power relations, cultural relativity, and the early inklings of a scientific empire.1 This circumscription of the text is in no small part the result of the course set by two historically disparate actors: first, Theodor De Bry, the Continental engraver and publisher who reprinted Harriot’s text in 1590 as the second book in his America series, and, second, Stephen Greenblatt, whose “Invisible Bullets” made Harriot’s thin volume a household name for early modern literary scholars of the last quarter century. De Bry’s edition, which added a new frontispiece and appended dozens of vivid copperplate engravings based on the drawings of John White (Harriot’s partner in his 1585 voyage), was published in four different languages and almost immediately became the dominant version of the text throughout Europe; conversely, Harriot’s initial 1588 edition, of which only six copies have survived, is a pale shadow in comparison.


Native Inhabitant Iron Pyrite Opening Page Material Circulation Companion Piece 
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  1. 1.
    For a range of readings, see Stephen Greenblatt, “Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and Its Subversion,” Glyph 8 (1981): 40–61;Google Scholar
  2. Chapter 1 in Denise Albanese, New Science, New World (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996);Google Scholar
  3. and, Chapter 2 in Thomas Scanlan, Colonial Writing and the New World, 1583– 1671: Allegories of Desire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 2.
    Ed White, “Invisible Tagkanysough,” PMLA 120, no. 3 (2005), 751–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 7.
    Mary Baine Campbell, “The Illustrated Travel Book and the Birth of Ethnography: Part I of De Bry’s America,” in The Work of Dissimilitude: Essays from the Sixth Citadel Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Literature, ed. David G. Allen and Robert A. White (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992), 187.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Mary C. Fuller, “Ralegh’s Fugitive Gold: Reference and Deferral in The Discoverie of Guiana,” Representations 33 (1991): 44–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 11.
    In The Original Writings & Correspondence of the Two Richard Hakluyts, ed. E.G.R. Taylor, 2 vols. (London: Hakluyt Society, 1935), 2:274.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Matthew Sweet, “Economy, Ecology, and Utopia in Early Colonial Promotional Literature,” American Literature 71, no. 3 (1999): 405.Google Scholar

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© Jonathan Gil Harris 2012

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  • Kevin Boettcher

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