The Silence of the Miskito Prince

How Cultural Dialogue Was Colonized

2022
Author:

Matt Cohen

Confronting the rifts created by our common conceptual vocabulary for North American colonial studies

How can we tell colonial histories in ways that invite intercultural conversation within humanistic fields that are themselves products of colonial domination? Focusing on the first two centuries of North American colonization, Matt Cohen explores this question by looking critically at five concepts frequently used to imagine solutions to the challenges of cross-cultural communication: understanding, cosmopolitanism, piety, reciprocity, and patience. 

How can we tell colonial histories in ways that invite intercultural conversation within humanistic fields that are themselves products of colonial domination? Beginning with a famous episode of failed communication from the narrative of the freed slave Olaudah Equiano, The Silence of the Miskito Prince explores this question by looking critically at five concepts frequently used to imagine solutions to the challenges of cross-cultural communication: understanding, cosmopolitanism, piety, reciprocity, and patience.

Focusing on the first two centuries of North American colonization, Matt Cohen traces how these five concepts of cross-cultural relations emerged from, and continue to evolve within, colonial dynamics. Through a series of revealing archival explorations, he argues the need for a new vocabulary for the analysis of past interactions drawn from the intellectual and spiritual domains of the colonized and for a historiographical practice oriented less toward the illusion of complete understanding and scholarly authority and more toward the beliefs and experiences of descendant communities.

The Silence of the Miskito Prince argues for new ways of framing scholarly conversations that use past interactions as a site for thinking about intercultural relations today. By investigating the colonial histories of these terms that were assumed to promote inclusion, Cohen offers both a reflection on how we got here and a model of scholarly humility that holds us to our better or worse pasts.

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Matt Cohen is professor of English as well as affiliate faculty in Native American studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where he also codirects the Walt Whitman Archive. He has written or edited six books, including the award-winning The Networked Wilderness: Communicating in Early New England (Minnesota, 2009).

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. Cosmopuritanism

2. Believing in Piety

3. Waiting for the Beginning

4. Rethinking Reciprocity

5. Beyond Understanding

Notes

Index