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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Communicable Disease in the American Literary Imagination
by Bezio, Kelly L., Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013, 241; 3562694
Abstract (Summary)

Communicable disease repeatedly found its way into early American fictional and autobiographical works. Rather than producing stories in which illness signaled dangerous otherness in need of control or even eradication, my study shows how authors from William Byrd II to Harriet Beecher Stowe used infectious disorders to develop inclusive conceptions of national belonging. By examining medical texts alongside literary works written from approximately 1720 to 1870, I make the case that like-cures-like principles undergirding inoculation and homeopathy helped to construct a worldview in which susceptibility to other cultures was seen as "therapeutic." Scholars have tended to interpret disease in literature as a device for stigmatizing outsiders—a reading well-suited to our modern age's ambivalent attitude toward exposure in an increasingly globalized world. But when we study this earlier period in American literary history, we find a remarkably different narrative. Indeed, I argue that attentiveness to the salutary effects of cross-cultural "infections" reveals an as-yet-unexamined national episteme in which foreign influences served to constitute community.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Thrailkill, Jane F.
Commitee: Flaxman, Gregory, Marr, Timothy, Richards, Eliza, Saunders, Barry, Taylor, Matt
School: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Department: English
School Location: United States -- North Carolina
Source: DAI-A 74/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, Science history, American literature
Keywords: Communicable disease, Cross-cultural infections, Cultural susceptibility, Inclusive conceptions, Medical texts, National belonging, Stigmatizing outsiders
Publication Number: 3562694
ISBN: 978-1-303-10473-2
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