Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Local Literature: Place and the Writing of Community in Nineteenth-Century America
by Bruen, Matthew, Ph.D., New York University, 2013, 242; 3591162
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores the ways by which reading and writing mediated the experience of place and the meaning of community in the nineteenth-century United States. Drawing on the literary productions of well-known authors like Frederick Douglass and Rebecca Harding Davis, the project shows how imaginative representations of real American places came to simultaneously challenge and make use of the expanding networks and institutions of a national print culture. Through its study of local cultures of print in Trenton, New Jersey, Bennington, Vermont, Chicago, Illinois, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, this dissertation also examines the societal and cultural reshaping that sprang from confrontations between the frontiers of local and national identity, attachments to the old and new places of the nation, and divergent beliefs regarding the importance of face-to-face communities in the lives of everyday Americans.

In each of its four chapters, the dissertation studies the consumption and production of what it calls "local literature," an oft-overlooked literary category comprised of texts written about a specific place by a resident of that place. This intentionally broad definition allows the project to study many diverse genres and texts, including diaries, unpublished letters, congressional testimony, national periodicals, melodramas, factory ledgers, pamphlets, autobiographies, short stories, speeches, memoirs, newspapers, toasts, slave narratives, poems, event programs, popular songs, and public art inscriptions. The vast array of materials considered by this dissertation offers a different angle on the diversity of print culture in the nineteenth-century United States, while also drawing attention to the ways that reading and writing affected how Americans thought of themselves in relation to the many local and distant places they encountered during this period in the nation's history.

By paying close attention to the local dynamics and contexts of nineteenth-century American literature, this dissertation sheds new light on the related issues of identity and attachment. To some degree, cultural historians have grown accustomed to viewing identity through the prisms of race, gender, nationality, and class; building off of these works, this project shows how the attachment to place - and the expression of this attachment through literary production - figures in the construction of identity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Augst, Thomas
Commitee: Baker, Jennifer, Drexler, Michael, McHenry, Elizabeth, Waterman, Bryan
School: New York University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 74/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American literature
Keywords: Davis, Rebecca Harding, Douglass, Frederick, Illinois, Local literature, New Jersey, Nineteenth-century America, Pennsylvania, Place, Print culture, Vermont
Publication Number: 3591162
ISBN: 978-1-303-31708-8
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