Imagining North America: Nineteenth Century German Travel Writers and Cultural Transfer

Jefferson Dillman


German travel writers who visited North America in the early and mid-nineteenth century brought cultural presuppositions with them that informed how they viewed the American landscape. The European concept of the sublime and the peculiarly Germanic romantic tradition of the Niebelungenlied helped shape how these travelers wrote about North America and its native peoples. With the publication of their travel narratives in Germany, the landscape of the American West became an object of romantic beauty and its people a heroic and tragic race. Images of America popularized in German travel writing in turn contributed to the rise of the Indianer literature as well as an early nationalistic identification with Native Americans as tribal brothers. Observing the writers and how the intellectual climate of Germany influenced the way they wrote about North America, how the experience of North America in turn modified their writing, and finally, how their writing in turn influenced further literary developments provide a compelling example of cultural transfer and the interconnectedness of the nineteenth century Atlantic World.

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