Annette Kolodny, "In Search of First Contact" (Duke UP, 2012)


We all know the song. "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue..." And now, thankfully, we all know the controversy; celebrating a perpetrator of genocide might say a few unpleasant things about the country doing the celebrating. But there is something that most Americans don't know: Europeans had visited the continent at least half a millennium before Columbus. Remembered in two medieval tales known as the "Vinland sagas," and in 1960 corroborated by a major archaeological discovery, Indigenous people--most likely the ancestors of today's Wabanaki Confederacy, among others--encountered Norse Viking sailors sometime around 1,000 CE. This used to be common knowledge in the United States. In fact, at moments of heightened xenophobia, Anglo-Americans even celebrated America's "Norse ancestry," considering it a far purer lineage than the Italian Columbus. Such debates are just one of the collected national anxieties Annette Kolodny traces in her masterful new book, In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of the Dawnland, and the Angl0-American Anxiety of Discovery (Duke University Press, 2012). Combining her unparalleled expertise in literary criticism, close collaboration with Mi'kmaq, Passamaquody and Penobscot communities, and the consultation of innumerable sources, Kolodny deepens our understanding of the "Vinland sagas" and explores what's at stake in national origin stories in a colonial world.

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