Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Forgotten eyewitnesses: English women travel writers and the economic development of America's antebellum West
by Clark, A. Bayard, Ph.D., Saint Louis University, 2013, 227; 3587328
Abstract (Summary)

Few modern economic historians dispute the notion that America's phenomenal economic growth over the last one hundred and fifty years was in large measure enabled by the development of the nation's antebellum Middle West—those states comprising the Northwest Territory and the Deep South that, generally, are located between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. By far, the labor of 14.8 million people, who emigrated there between 1830 and 1860, was the most important factor propelling this growth.

Previously, in their search for the origins of this extraordinary development of America's heartland, most historians tended to overlook the voices of a variety of peoples—African Americans, Native Americans, Mexicans, and artisans—who did not appear to contribute to the historical view of the mythic agrarian espoused by Thomas Jefferson and J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur. Another marginalized voice from this era—one virtually forgotten by historians—is that of English women travel writers who visited and wrote about this America. Accordingly, it is the aim of this dissertation to recover their voices, especially regarding their collective observations of the economic development of America's antebellum Middle West.

After closely reading thirty-three travel narratives for microeconomic detail, I conclude that these travelers' observations, when conjoined, bring life in the Middle West's settler environment into sharper focus and further explain that era's migratory patterns, economic development, and social currents. I argue these travelers witnessed rabid entrepreneurialism—a finding that challenges the tyranny of the old agrarian myth that America was settled exclusively by white male farmers. Whether observing labor on the farm or in the cities, these English women travel writers labeled this American pursuit of economic opportunity—"a progress mentality," "Mammon worship," or "go-aheadism"—terms often used by these writers to describe Jacksonian-era Americans as a determined group of get-ahead, get-rich, rise-in-the-world individuals. Further, I suggest that these narratives enhanced migratory trends into America's antebellum Middle West simply because they were widely read in both England and America and amplified the rhetoric of numerous other boosters of the promised land in America's Middle West.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Mancini, Matthew
Commitee: Looker, Benjamin, Ott, Cindy
School: Saint Louis University
Department: American Studies
School Location: United States -- Missouri
Source: DAI-A 74/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, American history, Economic history, British and Irish literature
Keywords: 19th-century English women travel writers, Agrarian myth, Antebellum Middle West, Antebellum economic development, Cliometrics, Jacksonian-era immigration
Publication Number: 3587328
ISBN: 9781303244919
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