Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation critically examines the relationship between race and nature in nineteenth-century America by analyzing texts that attempt to discover, create, or preserve a pure national identity. Historical events in the nineteenth-century U.S. - such as mass immigration, Native American displacement, industrialization, westward expansion, and the rise of science - frustrated the quest for a unified American identity. While these events seem various, each one exacerbated a nation already bewildered by one central question. What is the traffic between body and space? Nineteenth-century American literature frequently portrays the American environment as an ideal space in need of preservation and at risk of contamination. While racial oppression is often analyzed through the discrete parameters of the body, with skin color or blood indicating the mark of the "other," my literary study concerning both race and environment reveals that bodies and places are not necessarily contained or stable entities. Rather, I argue that race and nature function as infectious agents, each evoking a figurative "diffusion" between body and environment in which space becomes racialized and race spatialized. This study combines analyses of literary texts by Herman Melville, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Willa Cather, non-fiction works by Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir, as well as a scientific treatise by Ellen H. Richards to argue that nationalism inflects the American environmental imagination with a twofold desire for racial and spatial purity, an ideology that pervades not only fiction, but non-fiction and science, spanning the long Nineteenth Century.
Egan, Kristen Renee, "Infectious Agents: Race and Environment in Nineteenth-Century America" (2009). Dissertations. 171.
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Copyright © 2009 Kristen Renee Egan