Early Modern English Literature Studied in Two New Books by Colorado State English Professors

Colorado State University English professors study different aspects of early modern literature in England in two new books.

Barbara Sebek, Colorado State associate professor of English, is co-editor with Stephen Deng from Michigan State University of "Global Traffic: Discourses and Practices of Trade in English Literature and Culture from 1550 to 1700." The book is a collection of essays about the many ways English trading activity in the 16th century transformed culture, including literature and the arts.

"Global Traffic" looks at new topics and texts to support the relationship between literature and the economy during England’s unprecedented commercial expansion. Authors of the essays employ an economic approach to literature and write about topics important to the country in that time period including tobacco’s association with Africa, the fishing industry’s importance in the formation of the English Navy and the trend to use exotic plants in English gardens.

"The chapters offer a point of entry to the early formation of economic and cultural processes that we experience today – the notion of globalization," Sebek said. "’Global Traffic’ shows how the early processes of globalization can be viewed as intertwined economic and cultural phenomena."

Roze Hentschell, associate professor of English at Colorado State, studies the same time period in English literature but focuses on how the wool cloth industry defined the nation of England.

In "The Culture of Cloth in Early Modern England: Textual Constructions of a National Identity," Hentschell argues that it is impossible to comprehend the development of English nationalism during the early modern period without understanding the culture of cloth.

Wool manufacture and trade were largely considered to be national enterprises that affected nearly all subjects in England during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and as a result, authors of the period were able to articulate how important wool broadcloth was to a national identity.

"Imaginative, propagandistic, fictional, polemical, satirical and official, as I aim to show in this book, almost all types of early modern writing engaged with issues of the English wool cloth industry," Hentschell said.

One reason cloth held such a prominent place in the early modern imagination was due to the personal relationship individuals had with textiles. Many individuals were involved in the production and trade of cloth; thus, it was a material that became a focal point for thousands of laboring English men and women. Moreover, most English people exclusively wore cloth that had been manufactured domestically.

Hentschell investigates a national rather than an individual relationship to cloth to better understand that the identity of a people was just as bound to the materiality of their culture as that of individuals.

"Global Traffic: Discourses and Practices of Trade in English Literature and Culture from 1550 to 1700" is available at Amazon.com and the Reader’s Cove.

"The Culture of Cloth in Early Modern England" is available at Amazon.com.