The anthropocene is actually the settlerocene! Kyle B. Keeler, “The earth is a tomb and man a fleeting vapour”: The Roots of Climate Change in Early American Literature, MA Dissertation, Kent State, 2018


Abstract: Extreme temperatures, radical weather events, and species’ extinctions have all taken place or been foreshadowed during the Earth’s current ecological crisis. Since this crisis was named the “Anthropocene” (new, human) epoch, scholars from a range of disciplines have sought to find both a reason for and start to this geological era. Usually, the Anthropocene is thought to have begun during the Industrial Revolution of the early nineteenth century, following the carbon dioxide that was released into the Earth’s atmosphere from that period onward. However, this thesis argues that the roots of the Anthropocene, and the climate change that goes with it, can be traced back to the century before the Industrial Revolution.

I argue that the roots of the Anthropocene are first apparent in Lydia Maria Child’s 1824 novel, Hobomok. Set in early seventeenth-century New England, I seek to show that the Puritan settlers within the novel are carriers of what ecological philosopher Timothy Morton calls “agrilogistical” norms and subscribers to the reductive material philosophy of “Easy-Think Substances.” Moreover, I posit that the American Indians to which the Puritan settlers believe themselves superior to can be viewed as bearing material philosophies more akin to Diana Coole and Samantha Frost’s new materialism and Jane Bennett’s vital materialism, which offer a more ecologically sustainable viewpoint regarding nonhuman materiality. The competing viewpoints regarding nonhuman nature and materiality further serve to divide the Puritans and Amerindian characters, and this separation is seen further in ethnocentric colonialism apparent in Hobomok and furthered in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.

Set a century after Hobomok, Cooper’s novel serves to show the advancement of agrilogistical policies that began in Hobomok, and would continue through “civilization,” farming practices, war, and colonialization. In tracing these agrilogistical norms through the growth of America from Hobomok to Mohicans alongside weather and climatic events in both novels and their historical setting, I ultimately argue that these viewpoints would result in an ethnocentric European culture of death regarding the Amerindian and the natural world. These anthropocentric, agrilogistic, and ethnocentric modes of thinking both precede the Industrial Revolution and continue into our contemporary moment through dispossession of First Peoples for governmental and corporate interests that have distinct human and ecological consequences. In this thesis, therefore, I view literary colonial relations with nature and American Indians at the dawn of colonization and scrutinize a less common starting point for America’s thought in the Anthropocene, both in history and in literature.

%d bloggers like this: