Date of Award

Spring 5-2013

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis



First Advisor

Luis Iglesias

Advisor Department



In this thesis I turn to two of the originating texts of American literature: John Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia, and A True Relation. The General Historie was first published in 1624, sixteen years after Smith had returned to England, and A True Relation was published in 1608, just a year after Smith arrived Jamestown. These two were not the first or only texts Smith published. During his time spent as a mercenary, solider, and explorer, Smith also wrote eight other works. These two featured texts, The Generall Historie and A True Relation, present Smith’s time as explorer and leader of the Virginia colony. Smith journeyed to Virginia with the Virginia Company of London in 1606 and stayed until October of 1609, when he returned to England after receiving a gunpowder burn. A True Relation chronicles Smith’s time in the New World, while The Generall Historie expands the time frame of Smith’s study from the first English exploration to the New World in 1170 to the founding of New-Plymouth in 1624.

By placing The Generall Historie, A True Relation, and other of Smith’s works within the American literary canon, I seek to show how Smith discusses and attempts to define the New World and his role in it by analyzing his works, and the unique characterizations they produce, through the lens of film theory’s performative documentary theory. Like literary genres which can then be divided into subgenres, documentaries are also divided into several different subgenres that all utilize different techniques and set out to achieve different goals. Performative documentary film did not emerge in any particular year, but rather evolved through a combination of different fictional narrative and avant-garde film techniques. Performative documentary theory, the study of performative documentary films, analyzes how these films link personal accounts with historical realities, and allow the subject of the piece to speak out about himself. Smith, in his works, utilizes similar techniques and appears to have comparable goals in the creation of his texts.