This research will examine the value of accounts of North America produced by Old World visitors from 1610 to 1835. The research will set forth the context in which European travelers produced such accounts and then discuss the impact that the writing had in shaping Old World perceptions of America as well as New World views of the emerging American culture.
Any discussion of Old World visitors' accounts of North America that predates the American Revolution must begin with the observation that until the successful completion of the Revolution the measure taken of the new land was not necessarily the measure of America but rather of Europe in America. The priorities of European geopolitics, culture, and economics, specifically Europe's needs that the New World could fill and Europe's values that the New World could receive, were almost always at the forefront of consideration.
The European agenda in the Americas must be understood to have been uppermost in the minds of those who first arrived in the New World. Attitudes regarding America were shaped from the time of the earliest explorations. Columbus's account to Ferdinand and Isabella of his first voyage to what he wrongly expected would be Asia has about it a matter-of-factness and a sense of entitlement; he records that he has "taken possession for their highnesses" the islands and the "people innumerable") that inhabited them. Diaz, a member of the 1520 Cortez expedition to Mexico, reports in his diary that the expedition did much the same thing.
The earliest voyages to America had a dual mission: gold and God, more or less in that order. When Cortez lectures Montezuma on idolatry and human sacrifice and suggests that he and his men replace the (gold-plated) god figurines from the temple with a cross, the point is the sense of European entitlement. Ironically, as Diaz says, the indigenous peoples entertained a myth of prophecy that conquerors "would come from the direct...