PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

The Jamestown Project by Karen Ordahl Kupperman

Michael Patrick Brady

For as long as it's been a part of history, the colony at Jamestown has been a bit of an older, ugly stepsister compared to the Pilgrims at Plymouth.


The Jamestown Project

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 0674024745
Author: Karen Ordahl Kupperman
Price: $29.95
Length: 360
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2007-03
Amazon

For as long as it's been a part of history, the colony at Jamestown has been a bit of an older, ugly stepsister compared to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The goals and plight of the Pilgrims speak to the American imagination and reinforces the national self-image; the spirited group of immigrants, yearning for freedom and self-determination against all odds serves as a much more palatable touchstone than the nasty, brutish, capitalist venture on Chesapeake Bay, which forces a degree of reflection on the darker aspects of the nation's genesis.

The Jamestown Project, by Karen Ordahl Kupperman, cleverly anticipates the queasiness of this hindsight, and decides to place the story in a new context. Rather than looking at the Jamestown colony as a somewhat awkward and uncouth seed from which contemporary culture would eventually spring in the New World, Kupperman instead casts it as the fully-bloomed product of the Old World, the culmination of centuries of bold exploration, social and cultural evolution, and technological innovation. It may not have been pretty, but it was the tipping point of a Western civilization that would continues westward until it ran out of land. The Jamestown Project knows that most people are familiar with what came after the establishment of Jamestown, and instead spends nearly two-thirds of the book describing in rich detail the startling story of a world coming to grips with its size and diversity for the very first time.

At the start of the book, the Jamestown colony seems impossibly far off on the horizon as Kupperman steeps readers in the complex and eerily familiar world of the 16th century. Much time is spent examining the West's fear of Islamic pressures and the encroachment of the Ottoman Empire, both geographically and culturally, on a Europe divided by religious differences. Weakened by infighting amongst Catholics and Protestants, the major nations of Europe conceived of American endeavors as a means to secure their positions at home. Spain, who had gotten off to an early lead in the race for the New World thanks to Columbus, had turned North American resources into European dominance, wielding their armada against Protestant nations.

These intra-European rivalries had allowed the Ottoman Empire to become the world's largest and most prosperous entity. Though their geographical advances were a major issue, it seems as if their influence on culture frightened the mainstream European even more. The closer Islam got, the more attractive their relatively stable and burgeoning society looked to Christians weary of their difficult lives. By contrast to the religious strife of Christendom, Islam was remarkably tolerant, incorporating Christians and Jews into everyday life with no imposition. As Kupperman points out, western scholars at the time referred to the Ottomans as "the only moderne people."

This modernity was alluring to westerners, and "turning Turk," that is, fleeing to Ottoman controlled lands and adopting their ways, became epidemic. It was something of a 16th century moral panic, with the "Christian turned Turk" becoming a popular subject of ballads, theater, and apoplectic screeds warning of Christendom's doom.

The "Christian turned Turk" was really an example of what Kupperman terms a "projector," a class of people which arose during this age of exploration and adventure and sought out new experiences in the vast blank sections of the map. Whether it was in the seductive embrace of the Ottoman East or the promise of potential in the New World, people were rising to the occasion, taking advantage of the new opportunities and using these feats to propel themselves to stature. Some were the genuine article, like famous Jamestown overseer John Smith, whose tale of travel and captivity occupies a riveting chunk of The Jamestown Project, others were craven opportunists like Sir Thomas Stukeley, who played Kings against one another to further his own agenda, his cunning and guile keeping him one step ahead of these imperial forces.

Halfway through The Jamestown Project, it becomes apparent that Kupperman has cloaked a much more interesting and entertaining story in the shroud of the familiar colony. It's only the last third of the book which covers the colony's development, and while it is insightful and an excellent exploration of the neglected encampment, it's the tale of these "projectors" that is the truly captivating narrative. Every word that reveals what the world was like before everything refocused on America, how people lived and made their way in this exciting time when the modern world was being born, is stunning. For Americans, it can be difficult to look back across the Atlantic and grasp what was occurring, what motivated those "projectors" beyond the simplistic maxims learned in elementary school. The Jamestown Project does just that, and it's easy to see why the present is the way it is, finally knowing the origins of the past.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.