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The Networked Wilderness

Communicating in Early New England

2009
Author:

Matt Cohen

The Networked Wilderness

Significantly broadens our ideas of literacy, writing, and communication in early America

Reconceptualizing aural and inscribed communication as a spectrum, The Networked Wilderness bridges the gap between the history of the book and Native American systems of communication. Using sources ranging from Thomas Morton’s Maypole festival to the architecture of today’s Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, Cohen shows that the era before the printing press came to New England was one of extraordinary fertility for communications systems in America.

Matt Cohen develops a fundamental rethinking of the materiality of the book and the New England-Atlantic publication event, with excellent, nuanced, expanded readings. The Networked Wilderness is engagingly written and theoretically rich, a pleasure to read.

Ed White, University of Florida

In The Networked Wilderness, Matt Cohen examines communications systems in early New England and finds that, surprisingly, struggles over information technology were as important as theology, guns, germs, or steel in shaping the early colonization of North America. Colonists in New England have generally been viewed as immersed in a Protestant culture of piety and alphabetic literacy. At the same time, many scholars have insisted that the culture of the indigenous peoples of the region was a predominantly oral culture. But what if, Cohen posits, we thought about media and technology beyond the terms of orality and literacy?

Reconceptualizing aural and inscribed communication as a spectrum, The Networked Wilderness bridges the gap between the history of the book and Native American systems of communication. Cohen reveals that books, paths, recipes, totems, and animals and their sounds all took on new interactive powers as the English negotiated the well-developed informational trails of the Algonquian East Coast and reported their experiences back to Europe. Native and English encounters forced all parties to think of each other as audiences for any event that might become a kind of “publication.”

Using sources ranging from Thomas Morton’s Maypole festival to the architecture of today’s Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, Cohen shows that the era before the printing press came to New England was one of extraordinary fertility for communications systems in America.

Awards

Glasscock Center for Humanities Research – 2010 Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize For Interdisciplinary Scholarship

The Networked Wilderness

Matt Cohen is associate professor of English at University of Texas at Austin.

The Networked Wilderness

Matt Cohen develops a fundamental rethinking of the materiality of the book and the New England-Atlantic publication event, with excellent, nuanced, expanded readings. The Networked Wilderness is engagingly written and theoretically rich, a pleasure to read.

Ed White, University of Florida

Showing how ‘contact zones’ were spaces in which complex informational systems were produced, authorized, interpreted, and remade, The Networked Wilderness brings together Native American Studies, Early American Studies, and History of the Book methodologies to produce a compelling new account of multimedia communication networks in the New England ‘wilderness.’ Matt Cohen gives us a lucid and eye-opening new understanding of textuality, performance, interpretation, and cultural contact extending far beyond the seventeenth-century context that is the book’s focus.

Christopher Castiglia, author of Bound and Determined and Interior States

The Networked Wilderness offers a productive and thought-provoking analysis of colonial communication that will be of interest to historians of the book and of early American literature.

The New England Quarterly

This book is rich in historical and historiographical detail and nuance, far more so than a review of this length can convey. Cohen succeeds brilliantly at shedding new light on the four English texts and the history they depict. All in all, this book is an intellectually stimulating and engaging work that will contribute substantially to conversations about Native and colonial history and literature, the history of the book, and about the theory and practice of communications.

American Historical Review

This is a bold work, in which we glimpse the promise of a new communications history.

Reviews in American History

Innovative and fascinating—possibly a game changing—case for rereading such narratives.

Seventeenth-Century News

Cohen’s effort to focus analytic attention on information flows and multimedia combat—in the colonial past and in the colonial present—is both timely and innovative.

Early American Literature