Paper nation: American literature and the surveying of North America
Taylor, Alan Creston
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This dissertation studies the largely unexamined role of land surveying in the emergence and growth of the United States and its literature. In the Introduction I argue that surveying was an indispensable technology of American expansion that provided the means through which new territories were incorporated and assimilated within the burgeoning nation. The national survey further created a vast archive of images and descriptions that diffused into the furthest reaches of American thought, social life, and representational practice, forming a powerful conceptual framework for "viewing" and imagining the nation and its seemingly inevitable future. American fiction during this period both served and resisted the survey's ideological program by providing-and also refuting-narratives of place, identity, and sovereignty necessary to authorize control of the western lands. Chapter One argues that Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly (1799) dramatizes the largely forgotten history of the nation's first territorial expansion into the Northwest Territory during the 1780s, illustrating how the United States used the promise of private property in land to bring an end to frontier violence and impose fundamental changes in frontier social relations that ultimately led to US control of the region. Chapter Two focuses on Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona (1884) which depicts the role of the national survey in the reterritorialization of Alta California after 1848. The basic difficulty that plagued this contact zone involved the incorporation of a mosaic of spaces shaped by Spanish, Mexican, and Indian cultural practice and tradition into the social, legal, and economic structures of the United States-a process that might be described as the survey's "translation" of the idiomatic and informal spaces of Alta California into the uniform landscape of the nation. Chapter Three considers Louise Erdrich's Tracks (1988) and the instrumental role of the survey in a misguided national effort during the 1870s to "civilize" native peoples by introducing them to private property. Tracks exposes how the attempt to assimilate native peoples to the cultural and economic structures of the white communities surrounding them was accomplished through a profound, and destructive, revision of native space-the surveying of collectively held Indian lands into privately held allotments.
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