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The Jamestown Project

The Jamestown Project

Karen Ordahl Kupperman

ISBN 9780674030565

Publication date: 02/28/2009

Listen to a short interview with Karen Ordahl KuppermanHost: Chris Gondek | Producer: Heron & Crane

Captain John Smith's 1607 voyage to Jamestown was not his first trip abroad. He had traveled throughout Europe, been sold as a war captive in Turkey, escaped, and returned to England in time to join the Virginia Company's colonizing project. In Jamestown migrants, merchants, and soldiers who had also sailed to the distant shores of the Ottoman Empire, Africa, and Ireland in search of new beginnings encountered Indians who already possessed broad understanding of Europeans. Experience of foreign environments and cultures had sharpened survival instincts on all sides and aroused challenging questions about human nature and its potential for transformation.

It is against this enlarged temporal and geographic background that Jamestown dramatically emerges in Karen Kupperman's breathtaking study. Reconfiguring the national myth of Jamestown's failure, she shows how the settlement's distinctly messy first decade actually represents a period of ferment in which individuals were learning how to make a colony work. Despite the settlers' dependence on the Chesapeake Algonquians and strained relations with their London backers, they forged a tenacious colony that survived where others had failed. Indeed, the structures and practices that evolved through trial and error in Virginia would become the model for all successful English colonies, including Plymouth.

Capturing England's intoxication with a wider world through ballads, plays, and paintings, and the stark reality of Jamestown--for Indians and Europeans alike--through the words of its inhabitants as well as archeological and environmental evidence, Kupperman re-creates these formative years with astonishing detail.


  • The Jamestown experiment receives a new slant in this carefully researched book. Indeed, Kupperman...treats all of the factors that converged to bring forth the realization of the project, emphasizing the extraneous aspects of the founding of the Virginia colony rather than the unfolding of the New World venture itself. Not until two-thirds of the way through does the author take up the actual Virginia settlement. Kupperman places Jamestown in the context of a hundred years of European expansion. The book is especially valuable for thorough introductions of important players hitherto neglected by historians.

    —H.M. Ward, Choice


  • Karen Ordahl Kupperman is Silver Professor of History at New York University.

Book Details

  • 392 pages
  • 5-13/16 x 9 inches
  • Belknap Press