Over 300 years ago, Daniel Defoe immortalized the story of Robinson Crusoe with the publication of The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe—creating long tradition of stories about being marooned in an inhospitable place understood as the Robinsonade genre. The story has been called a myth, one in which the lines between fiction and fact blur. Virginia Woolf, writing on the 200th anniversary of Robinson Crusoe said the book “resembles one of an anonymous production of the race itself rather than the effect of a single mind.”
While the intimate details of Crusoe’s story might be unfamiliar to you, many of its adaptations like The Martian or Cast Away still persist. Yet the original novel provides the reader with a gauntlet of historical baggage ranging from colonialism and slavery to climate change and industrialization—forcing us to confront not only our past, but how we represent it in the present. What, then, is Crusoe’s legacy at 300, and what do its retellings tell us about how we think of our past and our future? When you start to notice the Robinsonade, it appears everywhere, and you start to realize you cannot put the horse back in the stable when it comes to Crusoe.
This student-driven online exhibit was conceived by Grant Glass (UNC-CH), Bailey Bogle (English), Cliff Haley (English), and Eli Kline (English) and was sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Institute of Humanities’ Story+ program. Our team used multiple research methods, from archival research to film analysis, to curate our exhibits. In the span of six weeks, we gathered and synthesized thousands of pages of archival, online, and print materials in order to describe each exhibited object. In addition to this, each one of us wrote our own article exploring different aspects of Robinson Crusoe, whether it be the novel’s publication or its adaptations. These articles and exhibits can be viewed on our website.
Header Image: Title Page and Frontispiece for the 1719 first edition of Robinson Crusoe, British Library.