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Daniel Defoe, Colonialism and Space
MRIC 2009/10

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"Daniel Defoe, Colonialism and Space"

October 20th
Ian Chambers - History

Abstract: Historian and theorist Henri Lefebvre has written that even if there is no general code of space, inherent to language or to all languages, there may have existed specific codes, established at specific historical periods and varying in their effects. If so interested ‘subjects’, as members of a particular society, would have acceded by this means at once to their space and to their status as ‘subjects’ acting within that space and (in the broadest sense of the word) comprehending it.

Building on Lefebvre, and other theorists, I have developed the concept of ‘spatial persona,’ that is, the linkage of a person’s identification with a specific location, or locations, as a means of verifying identity and informing the act of contact. My paper examines the development of the British spatial persona in the early eighteenth century, as seen through the works of Daniel Defoe. I initially turn to Defoe’s Tour, selecting several moments to detail the British spatial persona in the metropolis. I then travel across the Atlantic to show how the British spatial persona was played out during the colonial experience, both in fiction as seen in Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and in the real-life experiences of British settlers in the American Southeast as seen in the following quotation from Philip Thicknese, a British colonist who briefly settled in the new colony of Georgia in 1736, and commented in his memoirs:

the Indians sometimes visited my Island for a day or two, and then I had plenty of venison, which they boil’d down, and eat dipped in wild honey, this was a true Robinson Crusoe line of life. Philip Thicknesse. *

*Lefebvre, Henri, (Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith), The Production of Space, (Blackwell, 1991), p. 17

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