Wayfinding in Early American Literature

Jamie M Bolker, Fordham University


This dissertation explores what it meant to be lost and found in early America and the Atlantic world through the analysis of narratives about wayfinding published between 1682 and 1847. Wayfinding entails the everyday processes and procedures that humans undergo to become oriented in space and make their way through new and unfamiliar locales. Getting lost signifies a breakdown in the process of wayfinding. During the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, the colonization of territories desired by the British and American empires rested on successful navigation or wayfinding. Getting lost, therefore, posed a challenge to imperial aims. This dissertation focuses on central figures of lostness, and devotes one chapter each to: 1) the colonial woman traveller (narratives by Mary Rowlandson and Sarah Kemble Knight), 2) the sailor lost at sea (Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe), 3) the wayward frontiersman (Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly), and 4) the fugitive slave (narratives by Solomon Bayley and Andrew Jackson). Through this arrangement of what I call “wayfinding narratives,” I draw conclusions about the relationships between navigation and interrelated elements of textuality, spirituality, selfhood, and one’s relationship with nature. Wayfinding narratives, I suggest, reveal the convergences between spiritual (or psychological) and geographical navigation. By tracing the material and spiritual resonances of becoming lost and found, I argue that lostness was a state of both desolation and enlightenment for those who lived in an era defined by shifting and sometimes unsettling geographies of colonial expansion.

Subject Area

American studies|American literature

Recommended Citation

Bolker, Jamie M, "Wayfinding in Early American Literature" (2018). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10930745.