This paper proposes to assess recent scholarship on a field of study formerly termed “Early American Literature.” Early American Literature is usually considered a field of barren soil, with little to cultivate and still less to harvest. The justification of its existence lies in scholars’ interest in it for its historical value or in its implicit impact upon future “genuinely creative” writers. Recently, however, critics have been reconfiguring this field. Dating the beginning of this field all the way back to the arrival of Columbus in the New World in 1492—instead of the Pilgrims’ settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620—these critics also expand the materials to be investigated in terms of language and/or geography: English is not the only legitimate language, and regions other than the British colonies that became the future United States are also included.
In my paper I trace two major developments in this reconfiguration: Literature of British America (or the transatlantic approach) and Literatures of Colonial America (or the hemispheric approach). Taken together, these two approaches aim at nothing short of a complete overhaul, indeed a revolution in the field of Early American studies. Weary of the “proto-nationalist” approach in which they perpetually have to explain “how the literature of the thirteen colonies was the ‘origins’ of American national literary history,” Early American scholars have fearlessly blazed new trails in this field.