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The Conquest of Antiquity: John Lloyd Stephens, Romantic Archaeology, and Yucatan as American Interest Zone

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Abstract:

This paper will explore the interconnections between the institutionalization of new academic disciplines like anthropology, archaeology, geography, and history in the US in the mid-nineteenth century and the scientific, and amateur, exploration of Mesoamerica by citizens of the US and other countries. In the texts emerging from these expeditions, such as the writings of John Lloyd Stephens, Ephraim Squier, Arthur Morelet, Benjamin Moore Norman, and Georg Scherzer, Mesoamerica, and in particular Yucatan, is produced as a polytropic and multinational contact zone - a site of straightforward geopolitical interest in the case of the United States but also of a lingering Romantic cosmopolitanism in the Humboldtian vein or as a possible haven for refugees from post-1848 Europe.
While Kirsten Gruesz has recently (in ALH) argued in favour of reconceptualizing the Gulf of Mexico as a multicultural contact zone, the writings of Stephens (his two travelogues on Central America published in the 1840s) have likewise received renewed attention. Formerly viewed as either accounts of post-heroic adventures in the jungles of Yucatan and Guatemala or as reliable scientific descriptions of Maya antiquities, his travelogues are now analyzed (e.g. by Tripp Evans and Bruce Harvey) as generically hybrid documents whose polyvocality is at least in part the result of Stephens's different functions as official diplomatic envoy, as private adventurer and pioneer tourist, and as amateur scientist introducing the embryonic disciplines of American archaeology, ethnology, and geology to their "natural" terrain. The paper offered here is most concerned with this polyvocality and polytropicality. Though predominantly preoccupied with the implication of Yucatan and surrounding areas in a continentalist US-American rhetoric that switches back and forth between different generic and discursive registers (from diplomacy to history to an early form of ethnography), the paper also seeks to address contemporary views of the region that escape this discursive regime. In looking at the writings on Yucatan from a transnational and multilingual perspective, the paper wants to sketch how the scientific discourse on Mesoamerican antiquities emerges within a much more complex semantic field than is often assumed. The mid-nineteenth century discourse on Maya antiquities, though strongly subservient to the interests of empire in the US-American texts, cannot be reduced to this function. Next to domestic subversions of that discourse (in the form of parody and satire) an investigation of non-US texts shows up alternative imaginary narratives and trajectories.
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Name: The American Studies Association
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p185623_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Mackenthun, Gesa. "The Conquest of Antiquity: John Lloyd Stephens, Romantic Archaeology, and Yucatan as American Interest Zone" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p185623_index.html>

APA Citation:

Mackenthun, G. , 2007-10-11 "The Conquest of Antiquity: John Lloyd Stephens, Romantic Archaeology, and Yucatan as American Interest Zone" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p185623_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: This paper will explore the interconnections between the institutionalization of new academic disciplines like anthropology, archaeology, geography, and history in the US in the mid-nineteenth century and the scientific, and amateur, exploration of Mesoamerica by citizens of the US and other countries. In the texts emerging from these expeditions, such as the writings of John Lloyd Stephens, Ephraim Squier, Arthur Morelet, Benjamin Moore Norman, and Georg Scherzer, Mesoamerica, and in particular Yucatan, is produced as a polytropic and multinational contact zone - a site of straightforward geopolitical interest in the case of the United States but also of a lingering Romantic cosmopolitanism in the Humboldtian vein or as a possible haven for refugees from post-1848 Europe.
While Kirsten Gruesz has recently (in ALH) argued in favour of reconceptualizing the Gulf of Mexico as a multicultural contact zone, the writings of Stephens (his two travelogues on Central America published in the 1840s) have likewise received renewed attention. Formerly viewed as either accounts of post-heroic adventures in the jungles of Yucatan and Guatemala or as reliable scientific descriptions of Maya antiquities, his travelogues are now analyzed (e.g. by Tripp Evans and Bruce Harvey) as generically hybrid documents whose polyvocality is at least in part the result of Stephens's different functions as official diplomatic envoy, as private adventurer and pioneer tourist, and as amateur scientist introducing the embryonic disciplines of American archaeology, ethnology, and geology to their "natural" terrain. The paper offered here is most concerned with this polyvocality and polytropicality. Though predominantly preoccupied with the implication of Yucatan and surrounding areas in a continentalist US-American rhetoric that switches back and forth between different generic and discursive registers (from diplomacy to history to an early form of ethnography), the paper also seeks to address contemporary views of the region that escape this discursive regime. In looking at the writings on Yucatan from a transnational and multilingual perspective, the paper wants to sketch how the scientific discourse on Mesoamerican antiquities emerges within a much more complex semantic field than is often assumed. The mid-nineteenth century discourse on Maya antiquities, though strongly subservient to the interests of empire in the US-American texts, cannot be reduced to this function. Next to domestic subversions of that discourse (in the form of parody and satire) an investigation of non-US texts shows up alternative imaginary narratives and trajectories.

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