Early National Identity-building in John Kirk Townsend’s “Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains”

By Li-Ru Lu.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

In early nineteenth century, the American West was still full of unknown and unmapped terrain, teeming with undiscovered forms of life. John Kirk Townsend, a travel writer, naturalist-explorer, and nature writer in early-nineteenth-century America, traveled through the unexplored reaches of the American West. Penetrating into the unknown area of Western American continent, Townsend left a record of his scientific observation: “Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains, to the Columbia River, and a Visit to the Sandwich Islands, Chili, & c., with a Scientific Appendix” (1839). Written in the form of a travel diary, “Narrative of a Journey” is among the most charming early-nineteenth-century accounts of the landscapes and fauna in America’s western territories.
This study explores John Kirk Townsend's “Narrative of a Journey” in the context of early national American identity-building. It discusses Townsend’s engagement with the culture of American nationalism in early nineteenth century, both in literature and in science. Focusing on Townsend’s “Narrative of a Journey,” this study examines the following questions: In his travel journal how does Townsend build American national identity by documenting the plants, animals, and landscapes in early-nineteenth-century western territories? How does Townsend narrate his scientific discovery about the utterly unknown prairie, species, and desert wilderness of the American West to shape a uniquely national and cultural identity for early America?

Keywords: John Kirk Townsend, “Narrative of a Journey”, Science, Literature, Early National Identity-building, Natural History

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp.25-35. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 373.360KB).

Li-Ru Lu

Associate Professor, The Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, National Sun Yat-sen University, Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Prof. Li Ru Lu comes from Taipei, Taiwan. Majoring in English and American Literatures, she obtained her doctorate degree in National Taiwan University, Taiwan. Her Research interests are early American literature, nature writings, and ecological criticism. Currently, she is full-time associate professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature in National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan. In the fields of research, she wrote a book entitled Writing the Wilderness Environment: The Discourse of Wilderness Preservation in the Texts of American Environmental Writers (published by Bookman Publishing Company in 2005) and plenty of journal papers, such as “The Earth Is the Common Home of All” (published by The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability in 2008), “Writing Natural History” (published by National Central University Journal of Humanities in 2008), “The Sustainability Issues in Thomas Nuttall’s Natural History Writings” (published by The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability in 2010), “Alexander Wilson’s Delineation of Early America’s Lovely Face of Nature” (published by Humanitas Taiwanica in 2010), “Thomas Jefferson’s Natural History Writings and the Construction of American National Culture” (published by The Journal of Taipei Educational University in 2010), and so forth.