Carolyn Eastman is an associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research examines how men and women engaged with publications, oratory, and visual imagery during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and how those popular media affected their perceptions of self and community as well as the larger political culture. She is the author of the prizewinning A Nation of Speechifiers: Making an American Public after the Revolution (2009). Her current research has focused on two book-length projects. The first unfolds the strange career of an eccentric, drug-addicted, riveting orator in the early nineteenth century. The second asks how ideas about travel—elaborated in popular, richly illustrated volumes—cultivated new ways of seeing strangers and considering the self during the eighteenth century.
Early modern travel narratives frequently contained an unsettling vignette: a purportedly true tale about a European man who “marries,” and then abandons, a native woman who had proved crucial to his survival in unfamiliar territory. Considering that these books usually used racial comparison to declare European cultural superiority, these tales offered a far more complicated perspective on interracial families than one might expect—revealing in the process evolving viewpoints about cultural contact and sexuality.