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The British Atlantic World, 1576-1692: From Roanoke Colony to the Salem Witch Trials

Tutor:  John Cooper

Module type: Explorations

Module code: HIS00053I

In 1577 the astrologer and alchemist Dr John Dee published an appeal to Queen Elizabeth to establish a "British Empire" in the new world. English navigators were already exploring the coastline of North America and Canada, plundering Spanish settlements and searching for the North-West passage to the riches of China. Collected by Richard Hakluyt, their stories were now edited into a manifesto for the plantation of the new world on the same model that English were attempting to impose on Ireland.

Starting with the Elizabethan sea-dogs like Martin Frobisher and Francis Drake, this module follows the fortunes of British efforts to explore, to settle and to understand America.  In the century following John White’s pioneering colony on Roanoke Island, British settlement expanded from Virginia to New England, New York and Pennsylvania. Freedom of religion and commerce co-existed with indentured servitude and slavery, while relations with the indigenous population turned from curiosity towards conflict. Using primary sources as well as the rich historiography of the British Atlantic world, we examine the identity and beliefs of the British settlers in America, their enduring links to the old world and their responses to the new. The module concludes with the Salem witch trials of 1692, a turning-point in the history of colonial America.

The seminar programme will deal with the following:

    • Elizabethan sea-dogs and the North-West Passage
    • John Dee, Richard Hakluyt and the idea of "British empire"
    • Conquest and colonisation in Ireland
    • John White’s drawings and the "lost colony" of Roanoke
    • Settling down: the plantation of Virginia
    • A city on a hill: Puritanism in England and America
    • A new world?  British folkways in America
    • A changing landscape: Indians and ecology
    • Witchcraft, pestilence and the New England mind

The group project is likely to consist of an analysis of a primary source chosen by the student in consultation with the tutor (e.g. Richard Hakluyt’s "Discourse on Western Planting," John White’s drawings of Indian culture, printed records of the Salem witch trials).


For more detailed information, please visit the module catalogue.