Ecologies of Innovation: Economy, Empire, and Environment in Eighteenth-Century British Literature

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“Ecologies of Innovation: Economy, Empire, and Environment in Eighteenth-Century British Literature” examines how eighteenth-century literature shaped the reception and articulation of innovative modes of production in the Atlantic world. “Innovation” is a concept that is now as ubiquitous as it is elusive. And yet, attending to the cultural histories of innovation is essential to understanding our moment, from the conceptual foundations of global capitalism to the environmental legacies of colonialism. This project explores literary encounters with innovations in mining, shipping, plantation agriculture, and manufacturing that not only advanced Britain’s imperial ascendancy but also registered as forms of capitalist enterprise legible on a planetary scale. From Daniel Defoe, to Olaudah Equiano, to James Grainger, British writers negotiated the conventions of eighteenth-century literary culture with the innovations that were enabling capital accumulation and territorial expansion. By analyzing the interplay of literary and technical discourse in eighteenth-century Britain, I recast paradigmatic modes of the period’s literary culture—the novel, aesthetic philosophy, the slave narrative, and the georgic—as means of turning toward and responding to innovation. In the end, “Ecologies of Innovation” traces a prehistory of our troubled relationship with innovation, illustrating how and to what extent literature and language shaped the early expression of colonial capitalism.

Doctor of Philosophy
British literature, Enlightenment, environment, capitalism, industrialization, innovation

MacDonnell, Kevin T.. "Ecologies of Innovation: Economy, Empire, and Environment in Eighteenth-Century British Literature." (2021) Diss., Rice University.

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