Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




In recent years, the field of comparative history has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity as scholars attempt to understand the past in a global context. This study examines the early period of English exploration of the Atlantic world and the confrontation of English men and women with natives of geographically distinct regions. By comparing English interactions with Russians, West Africans, and North and South Americans during the contact period, this dissertation argues that the mutually constructed dialogue between the visiting English and the natives of each region was a struggle for power and control. In their efforts to construct the natives as being both recognizable and inferior, the English utilized contemporary notions of class and gender not only to understand the people they encountered, but as a strategy to make the natives submissive.;While the English noted that the natives of each region had different skin color, notions of racial hierarchy were not fixed in the sixteenth century. In fact, the English were more threatened by similarity than by difference during their early encounters. Convinced that they were a unique and superior people, the discovery of Russia as a distorted image of English society was cause for great consternation among the English visitors. In an effort to distance themselves from the apparently barbarous Russians, the English suggested that despite their outward signs of "civility," the Russian people had a fundamental flaw that allowed them to accept tyranny and oppression.;Despite their belief in the superiority of their society, the English focus on economic matters above all else during the first-contact period forced them to act within the parameters of native cultures. Not only did the English have to come to terms with the demands of unfamiliar environments, but they often had to meet the demands of native peoples. Natives in each region held considerable power based on their military prowess and their monopoly on local trade and information about the area. as vital allies, trading partners, and informants, the natives recognized their power and manipulated the English visitors at every opportunity.



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