This dissertation examines relations between England’s colonization efforts of the early seventeenth century and the cultural production arising in and around the courts of James I (1603-25) and Charles I (1625-49). While both phenomena have long been acknowledged as indispensable to an understanding of seventeenth century England, relations between the two have gone largely unexamined. Historians of empire and colonization have viewed this period as one in which England turned its attention outward, seeking colonies in hopes of competing with rival Spain. In much the same way, architectural historians have viewed the period as one in which England turned away from a medieval (even a neo-medieval) past and towards the classicism of the Italian Renaissance. Two watershed events then: one economic, one cultural; both pursued by court and crown alike; both employing the built environment as medium, yet for all these similarities little attempt has been made to relate the two. Historians of England and its emerging empire have largely ignored culture, focusing instead on the political and economic consequences of colonization. While historians of culture, architectural historians among them, have ignored colonization (both in its built manifestations abroad and its influence upon so-called “high” culture), focusing instead on the cultural innovations of the court.
Through an expanded geographic scope, and a willingness to place the seemingly mundane qualities of colonial environments in dialogue with the more spectacular examples of court culture, this project seeks to bring these two phenomena into relation with one another. In doing so, it argues that England’s relation to its new world was much like its relation to the Italian Renaissance. Both were known at a distance—through books, images, and travel accounts rather than first-hand; artists were crucial to the “discovery” of both; and the acceptance and rejection of aspects of each became key elements in defining an “Englishness” made newly urgent by both discoveries. Drawing from the fields of art history, archaeology, ethnography, and media studies, I construe the built environment as a realm of contestation that not only had a hand in defining the “New World” in and for the English imaginary, but served as a medium by which to define and differentiate English civility from its colonial other.
Aaron White is a PhD candidate in Architectural History at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. White holds an MA in Architecture from Pratt Institute, where he was awarded the Stanley Katz Award for design excellence; and a BA in Architecture from the University of Idaho. His research focuses on the history of seventeenth-century English architecture, particularly in its relation to colonization efforts in Ireland and North America. His writing has appeared in AD, CLOG, Studio, Urban Omnibus, Think Space Pamphlets, and The Building (Lars Müller, 2017). He teaches studios and seminars at Pratt Institute and the New School.
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