American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


“I Laid my Hands on a Gorgeous Cannibal Woman”: Anthropophagy in the Imperial Imagination, 1492 – 1763

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/History

First Advisor

Andrew Schocket (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Amilcar Challu (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Susana Pena (Committee Member)


This dissertation examines European writings about cannibalism in North America from 1492 until 1763, uncovering insights into the establishment and maintenance of imperial power. It contributes to existing scholarship about cannibalism, empire, gender history, and the history of sexuality. Imperial power depended upon the assertion of European superiority and the assumption of Indian inferiority, and the discourse of cannibalism played a key role in the establishment of these hierarchical determinations. Because imperial expansion always involved the conquering of bodies in addition to land and resources, it is imperative to acknowledge and scrutinize the way that conquered bodies were gendered. Cannibalism is an embodied act, and an investigation of the discourse of anthropophagy illuminates the development of early modern ideas about savagery, civilization, gender, and sexuality.

Situated at the crossroads of history and cultural studies, this dissertation employs discourse analysis in order to reveal new insights into historical documents and to re-center gender in the study of the discourse of cannibalism. This comparative project traces the discourse of cannibalism in the context of Caribbean exploration, the Spanish empire in Mexico, the French empire in Canada, and the English empire in Atlantic North America, in order to develop an understanding of the ways in which the discourse of cannibalism changed across empires, time-periods, and geographic locations. This project compensates for the lack of scholarly attention that has been afforded to the study of cannibalism in North America. Ultimately, it uncovers some of the ways in which the discourse of cannibalism reinforced, created, and shaped developing ideas about gender and empire.