Geography and Settlement at the Edge of Early AmericaUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Early American Studies
In Florida, land and water frequently change places with little warning, dissolving homes and communities along with the very concepts of boundaries themselves. While Florida's landscape of saturated swamps, shifting shorelines, coral reefs, and tiny keys initially impeded familiar strategies of early U.S. settlement, such as the establishment of fixed dwellings, sturdy fences, and cultivated fields, over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Americans learned to inhabit Florida's liquid landscape in unconventional but no less transformative ways.
In Liquid Landscape, Michele Currie Navakas analyzes the history of Florida's incorporation alongside the development of new ideas of personhood, possession, and political identity within American letters. From early American novels, travel accounts, and geography textbooks, to settlers' guides, maps, natural histories, and land surveys, early American culture turned repeatedly to Florida's shifting lands and waters, as well as to its itinerant enclaves of Native Americans, Spaniards, pirates, and runaway slaves.
This preoccupation with Floridian terrain and populations, argues Navakas, reveals a deep American concern with the challenges of settling a region so exceptional in topography, geography, and demography. Navakas reads a vast archive of popular, literary, and reference texts spanning Revolution to Reconstruction, including works by William Bartram, James Fenimore Cooper, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, to uncover an alternative history of American possession, one that did not descend exclusively, or even primarily, from the more familiar legal, political, and philosophical conceptions of American land as enduring, solid, and divisible. The shifting southern edge of early America produced a new language of settlement, belonging, territory, and sovereignty, and that language would ultimately transform how people all across the rapidly changing continent imagined the making of U.S. nation and empire.
"Liquid Landscape is a masterful study of adaptability that will appeal to scholars of literature, cartography, the environment, and early American history, regardless of region. Indeed, Navakas's approaches and conclusions extend well beyond Florida. Through sharp literary analysis, depth, and breadth, Navakas elucidates how diverse populations thrived in places where others struggled to survive . . . Just as Navakas succeeds in integrating Florida-a region so distinct that it is often overlooked in historical and cultural accounts of early America-back into the national narrative, so too did American officials succeed in incorporating Florida into the nation"—Environmental History
"Navakas's excellent study . . . simultaneously recuperates Florida's singular status in America's founding stories and points out the fallacy of figuring Florida as exceptional. This ability to hold up Florida as exemplary while rejecting the idea that it is anomalous or otherwise unextrapolatable is perhaps Navakas's most remarkable achievement in this text.."—Eighteenth Century Fiction
"Liquid Landscape is an outstanding interdisciplinary study of Florida's historical geographies that raises the bar for scholars in a variety of fields of both history and literature . . . a rich and sophisticated historical study of the relationships between colonialism and geographical ambiguity in early America. Anyone interested in the interstitial places where land and water meet will find this book fascinating."—Journal of American History
"In Liquid Landscape, Michele Currie Navakas demonstrates with brilliant originality how the topographical distinctiveness of Florida's 'unstable ground' generated counter-conceptions of roots and boundaries, historical exceptionality, ideals of possession and property, and much else during the formation of national identity over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A remarkable, fascinating achievement."—John Matthews, Boston University
"The insightful and compelling readings in Liquid Landscape make an important intervention in the field of early American studies, one that changes the map of early nationalism in significant ways."—Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Northeastern University
"Liquid Landscape is an imaginative and intelligent work, offering significant new contributions to geographies in American studies. Michele Currie Navakas ranges to excellent effect among a variety of genres and media, and her historical purview from the late colonial era through Reconstruction is similarly impressive and useful."—Jennifer Greeson, University of Virginia
- Winner of the 2019 Rembert Patrick Award from the Florida Historical Society
- Winner of the 2019 Stetson Kennedy Award from the Florida Historical Society