Among his many experiments in manufacturing in the Life and Strange Surprising Adventures, Robinson Crusoe tries his hand at building canoes. The last of these, built with Friday’s help, is a hybrid of Carib and European design, a traditional dugout fitted out with sail and rudder. I read this vessel as a transcultural object, reflecting the technological adaptations common in the contact zone. At the same time, I investigate the history of European representations of the canoe in the eighteenth century, showing that it was at the center of debates about native craftsmanship and labor. Crusoe’s adventures as a shipwright allow Defoe to explore and complicate the boundaries between civilized and “savage” in his novel, and to imagine the possibilities of a new colonial dispensation of labor marked by collaboration between indigenous and European workers.
Peter Walmsley; Robinson Crusoe’s Canoes. Eighteenth-Century Life 1 January 2019; 43 (1): 1–23. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00982601-7280268
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