Narrating Colonial Violence and Representing New-World Difference: The Possibilities of Form in Thomas Harriot's A Briefe and True Report

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Safundi : journal of South African and American studies

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University of Cape Town

In tracing the stories—or ‘‘histories,’’ as sixteenth-century exploration narratives were called—with which expansionist Europe came to know its colonial Other, we see outlines of the habits of thought and the systems of identification with which imperialist Europe constructed its world.1 Thomas Harriot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia has been read as a key text in the development not only of knowledge specifically of America, but of sixteenth-century natural history and early scientific methodology more generally. The Report itself does not claim to be compendious and is driven by Harriot’s openly acknowledged agenda of promoting support for the English colonization of America. But the interesting feature about the Harriot text, the thing that is given scant critical attention, is that it is really two distinct texts, published only two years apart but each strikingly different in its treatment of the alarming effects of the colonial encounter.