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Liquid Landscape: Citizenship and the Language of Floridian Geography

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Abstract:

In the United States conceptions of personhood and identity have historically been rooted in land. Definitions of citizenship in the emerging nation relied heavily on the writings of Scottish Enlightenment philosophers who considered the ownership of divisible property fundamental to the establishment of personal identity. But what happens to possessive individualism when early American settlers confront a landscape of swamps and marshes, one that cannot be so easily divided because it is fundamentally porous? As a landscape that collapses the very distinction between land and water that enables the division of property, Florida invites us to rethink philosophical discourses that are fundamental to the emergence of the nation as a political and territorial entity. Because Florida’s combination of geography and topography was singular among all of the nation’s actual and prospective possessions, encounters with the Floridian land gave rise to a language that suggests ways of founding individual and national identity in the absence of terra firma.

This paper explores the language of the land that the unincorporated inhabited in Florida and the productive pressures that this language brought to bear on the emerging model of the agrarian republic. Descriptions of the geographical features of Florida -- a peninsula comprised of coastal terrain and water-logged soil, subject on all sides to erosion, and terminating in a series of coralline keys -- would frustrate the fantasy of Crevecoeur’s Farmer James that all Americans are "tillers of the earth," pursuing "distinct possession" of the soil by converting it into "pleasant farm[s]." In this paper I read depictions of Florida in early geology textbooks and works on agriculture, such as John Mitchell’s American Husbandry (1775), alongside descriptions of riparian property in legal discourses, such as Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69). I will show that language from all three discourses about the land -- geological, agricultural, and legal -- converge in early American representations of Florida to suggest ways of taking root in American soil that were unimaginable according to the terms of prevalent political discourses. Arguably the new nation needed Floridian metaphors, which is to say that it needed a way to imagine the incorporation of the landless so that their ostensible "instability" did not destabilize the republic.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244811_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Currie, Michele. "Liquid Landscape: Citizenship and the Language of Floridian Geography" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Oct 16, 2008 <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244811_index.html>

APA Citation:

Currie, M. A. , 2008-10-16 "Liquid Landscape: Citizenship and the Language of Floridian Geography" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244811_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: In the United States conceptions of personhood and identity have historically been rooted in land. Definitions of citizenship in the emerging nation relied heavily on the writings of Scottish Enlightenment philosophers who considered the ownership of divisible property fundamental to the establishment of personal identity. But what happens to possessive individualism when early American settlers confront a landscape of swamps and marshes, one that cannot be so easily divided because it is fundamentally porous? As a landscape that collapses the very distinction between land and water that enables the division of property, Florida invites us to rethink philosophical discourses that are fundamental to the emergence of the nation as a political and territorial entity. Because Florida’s combination of geography and topography was singular among all of the nation’s actual and prospective possessions, encounters with the Floridian land gave rise to a language that suggests ways of founding individual and national identity in the absence of terra firma.

This paper explores the language of the land that the unincorporated inhabited in Florida and the productive pressures that this language brought to bear on the emerging model of the agrarian republic. Descriptions of the geographical features of Florida -- a peninsula comprised of coastal terrain and water-logged soil, subject on all sides to erosion, and terminating in a series of coralline keys -- would frustrate the fantasy of Crevecoeur’s Farmer James that all Americans are "tillers of the earth," pursuing "distinct possession" of the soil by converting it into "pleasant farm[s]." In this paper I read depictions of Florida in early geology textbooks and works on agriculture, such as John Mitchell’s American Husbandry (1775), alongside descriptions of riparian property in legal discourses, such as Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69). I will show that language from all three discourses about the land -- geological, agricultural, and legal -- converge in early American representations of Florida to suggest ways of taking root in American soil that were unimaginable according to the terms of prevalent political discourses. Arguably the new nation needed Floridian metaphors, which is to say that it needed a way to imagine the incorporation of the landless so that their ostensible "instability" did not destabilize the republic.


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