Professor McGann writes:
The lecture introduces the argument that organizes a book on Colonial American writing that I am now finishing (American Literature before American Literature). This book has been undertaken as the prelude to a study of "American Literature," commonly so called – i.e., imaginative writing, poetry and prose, from Charles Brockden Brown forward – which I see as having features that are distinctively American (as opposed to British or European). These features emerged out of the unusual circumstances that shaped the nearly 200 years of writing that came before American Literature became "American Literature." Two matters in this account are crucial: first, that nearly all colonial writing has a decisively "practical" focus; and second, that the major corpus of this writing reflects the protracted "Contact" arrangements that the American peoples and the British colonials were driven by circumstance to work out together.