Elizabeth Kiszonas, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Barra Dissertation Fellow in Art and Material Culture
“Westward Empire: George Berkeley’s ‘Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts’ in American Art and Cultural History”
“Westward the Course of Empire takes its Way,” lyricizedthe Irish-Anglican bishop and philosopher George Berkeley in 1726. From the mid-eighteenth century through the end of the nineteenth, this single line of poetry colonized an enormous swath of America’s cultural landscape. Immortalized in newsprint, broadsides, statesmen’s speeches, reading primers, geographies, the first scholarly history of the United States, as well as in poetry, paintings, lithographs, and photographs, the words evolved from an Old-World paradigm concerning the perennial rise and fall of empires into a full-throated expression of American beliefs and convictions summed up in the phrase “manifest destiny.” Examining the trajectory of this line of poetry through the lens of literary and visual culture, this project demonstrates the complex and contested ways that this single sentence served to acclimate Americans to an expansive conception of United States empire, providing a potent “proof” of American exceptionalism and a heavily exploited justification for hegemonic territorial claims.