Kate Flint Delivers Opening Lecture

by John Kucich

The Department of English inaugurates the school year each September with an opening lecture delivered by a member of the faculty. Last year, Professor Kate Flint presented a paper entitled “Modernity and the Native American in Victorian Britain.”

Over the course of her exceptionally prolific career, Professor Flint has produced a body of scholarship that makes her one the world’s most distinguished authorities on Victorian literature and culture. The range of her work, which includes studies of fiction, poetry, art, popular science, psychoanalysis, visual culture, the periodical press, and, most recently, transatlantic representations of Native American culture, is unparalleled. Her book, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination, which won the British Academy’s 2002 Rose Mary Crawshay Prize for the best work of literary scholarship by a woman writer of the year, is a comprehensive study of the relationship between Victorian art and literature. Her landmark book, The Woman Reader, 1837-1914, is a groundbreaking analysis of Victorian controversies surrounding issues of women’s reading and has since become standard reading for students of nineteenth century women’s studies.

In her lecture, Professor Flint outlined some of the discoveries and conclusions from her forthcoming book, The Transatlantic Indian, 1776-1930, which promises to be a definitive study of representations of Native Americans in British and American culture. She contended that the figure of the Indian is inseparable not just from the culture and politics of American expansionism, but also from Britain’s interpretation of its imperial role. The Indian was a touchstone for British perceptions of its lost American colony, but the frequent visits of many Native Americans to Britain demonstrated that they were not the declining or degenerate race that popular culture had made them out to be. Many Britons saw mistreatment of the Indian as a symbol of what they perceived had gone wrong with the United States. These perceptions played a chastening role in British attitudes toward native peoples in their own colonies. Although traditionalism has long been a hallmark of Native American culture, Professor Flint demonstrated that the concept of tradition in Indian society existed in dialogue with western modernity, rather than simply in opposition to it.