Transethnic America: nineteenth-century narratives of self, other, and nation
Field, Emily Donaldson
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My dissertation desegregates nineteenth-century American literary history by reconstructing cross-ethnic dialogues between traditions too often seen as distinct. Drawing particularly on captivity narratives, slave narratives, and other forms of autobiography, I show that white, Native American, and African American authors' conceptions of themselves and the nation were relational, dependent on dynamic exchanges across ethnic lines. My methodology is "transethnic" in that it posits a horizontal rather than a vertical axis, examining writers in conversation with their contemporaries at pivotal historical moments in national identity formation rather than primarily as participants in isolated ethnic traditions. This emphasis on dialogical reading brings the boundary-crossing gains of transnationalist studies to bear on comparative multiethnic literature, suggesting that American identities were fashioned in multiethnic as well as international matrices. Chapter one argues that William Apess's <italic>Eulogy on King Philip</italic> (1836) marshals source material by Washington Irving and historian Samuel Drake to intervene in the narrative of national origin wherein Puritans become proto-Revolutionaries, the Indians vanish, and the new republic is fated to dominate the continent. The subsequent two chapters take up Apess's call to counter the myth of the "vanishing Indian" by examining the overlooked role of Native Americans in the slave narrators' adaptations of the captivity narrative genre. Chapter two shows how Native and African American autobiographers including Apess, Black Hawk, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth create "counter-captivity narratives" that leverage the childrearing values of their time to expose the constructedness of white childhood and national purity. Chapter three turns to the place of Native Americans in African Americans' rhetorical self-fashioning, focusing on the late eighteenth-century Black Atlantic trope of the talking book and antebellum slave narratives. Chapter four demonstrates that a transethnic analysis of nineteenth-century American literature sheds new light on transnational identities at the turn of the twentieth century, arguing that double consciousness serves as a figure for cross-ethnic identification among white, black, and ethnic immigrant writers including W.E.B. Du Bois, Henry Adams, Henry James, and Mary Antin. For these unlikely interlocutors, whose social circles overlapped, duality becomes an indispensible trope that is nevertheless insufficient to describe personal and national identity.