Ph.D. Student Jamie Bolker on "Navigation in the Age of Robinson Crusoe"

"Since electronically assisted navigation over land and sea (and space) has become the norm," writes Fordham English Ph.D. candidate Jamie Bolker, "it is easy to forget how difficult traveling from point A to B was in centuries past." In fact, Bolker continues, "getting lost at sea was such a tremendous problem for the British Empire in the eighteenth century that navigational struggles inspired government intervention and new forms of literature." 

Bolker received a research fellowship at the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum for work on her dissertation. While examining the library’s copy of a large English sea atlas she found that the book’s eighteenth-century owner, a sea-captain himself, had scrawled the words "Robinson Cruso" in the back pages, and then a few pages later had signed his own name followed by “Hon. Robinson Late of Salem.” This is only one example Bolker has found in support of her hypotheses that “literary and navigational practices” were complexly “intertwined…in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world,” and that “eighteenth-century British American sailors engaged with contemporary literature” in rich and interesting ways. Her blog post on the topic, originally published on the library's website, highlights Bolker’s discoveries during her fellowship. 


At Fordham, Bolker is working on her dissertation: “Lost and Found: Wayfinding in Early American Literature.” The dissertation, building on the insights of her article, considers how getting physically lost shaped notions of individual identity from 1704-1854, a period in which selfhood was shifting from Puritan notions of wilderness as inimical toward Transcendentalist ideals of finding oneself in nature.  Each chapter centers on figures whose identities were made or unmade throughout their journeys, such as lone female travelers, shipwrecked adventurers, frontiersmen, fugitive slaves, and land surveyors. Bolker has received research fellowships from Fordham University, the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture, Phillips Library, and the Winterthur Museum and Library. In spring 2017 she will complete a residential Dissertation Fellowship at the Winterthur in Delaware.