Department of American and Canadian Studies

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Research Summary

Research Topic

America's Imagined Revolution: Making Narrative, Shaping Politics and Conceiving the New South after Reconstruction

Research Summary

My thesis examines postbellum American literature and print culture (primarily relating to the US South) between 1865 and 1914 to explore how writers and cultural critics narrated and memorialised the Reconstruction period. I explore how cultural commentators harnessed visions of "The Old South", emancipation and Reconstruction to fantasise about a "New South" and to shape an historical and artistic record which framed The New South as a commodity for the national market. In addition, I seek to explore how by looking back to slavery and its aftermath political writers theorised the market itself. Literary scholars and cultural historians have recently focused on the huge output of American novels and print material depicting the emancipation and Reconstruction periods in the South and have uncovered the extent to which these materials shaped a reactionary national narrative of Reconstruction as a political and social disaster. My work builds on this existing scholarship, exploring not so much writers used southern history to pursue a political agenda but how those agendas were themselves warped and formed by the ways in which writers used the transition from slavery to project changing class relations. Where recent scholars have charted how the cultural materials I examine obscured socio-economic contradictions and bolstered pervasive narratives of nationalism, racial paternalism and white supremacy I seek to uncover the surprising ways in which these discourses dwelt upon and engaged with political-economic processes and ideas which appeared to challenge their explicit politics. Exploring tensions in the political poetics of writers on Reconstruction and southern politics I intervene in historical debates over the emergence of capitalist social relations from slavery and explore the cultural implications of social and economic hybridity in the decades after emancipation By exploring self-consciously political and didactic writing I seek to elucidate how political ideology is mutated by its conversion into a narrative object. By analysing contradictions in the imaginary life of political forms I seek to challenge how we understand the broader relationship between cultural practice, class and political-economic change.

My thesis engages with a range of canonical and less well known nineteenth-century authors including George Washington Cable, Albion TourgeƩ, Thomas Dixon, Charles Chesnutt, Thomas Nelson Page, Sutton Griggs and W.E.B. Du Bois. In addition to using fictional materials and essays by authors of fiction I examine the national magazine press and read fictional works alongside legal material and works by historians of the day to uncover the pervasive influence of a developing political aesthetics which sought in variously sublimated ways to theorise the transition from slavery to capitalism. Research interests

  • Nineteenth-century American Literature
  • Political fiction
  • Slavery and Capitalism in the US
  • Marxist Theory and the Frankfurt School

Research Supervisors

  • Professor Sharon
  • Professor Peter Ling

Primary Funding Source

AHRC Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership

Research Institutes, Centres and/or Research Clusters Membership

  • British Association of American Studies
  • Society for the Study of Southern Literature

Department of American and Canadian Studies

University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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