Early American Autobiography

Susan Clair Imbarrato

in The Oxford Handbook of Early American Literature

Published in print March 2008 | ISBN: 9780195187274
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 Early American Autobiography

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  • Literature
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Studies (Fiction, Novelists, and Prose Writers)


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Early American autobiography is the main focus of this article. Autobiographical writings in early America tell us how individuals lived and imagined themselves within an evolving culture and amid a challenging environment. Explorers, statesmen, and travelers conveyed their findings and experiences to report discoveries, express gratitude for patronage, or illustrate divine Providence. With an emphasis on personal perspective, autobiography would seem closely aligned with American literature that values and celebrates the self. The study of this genre involves the study of the conditions for using the first person voice to express matters spiritual and secular, the general composition of an autobiographical text, and the sources for early American autobiography. Early American autobiography develops at the intersection of geographic, cultural, political, and religious change that values individual accomplishment yet prefers it to be expressed with modesty. Such texts range across class, gender, ethnicity, and creed to anchor our historical understanding of migration, settlement, rebellion, and nation building with valuable insight.

Keywords: American autobiography; autobiographical writings; patronage; political change; religious change

Article.  9473 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Literary Studies (Fiction, Novelists, and Prose Writers)

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