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"An Exchange Of Territory": Geography, Literature, And The American Civil War

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Abstract

An Exchange of Territory charts the role of the American Civil War in transforming the national spatial imaginary. It argues that the war generated an existential, yet generative, instability through which the idea of the nation could be reformed. Following from Emily Dickinson's assertion that "war feels to me an oblique place," this dissertation seeks to understand how the war was experienced by those who were distant from it, arguing that the experience of place was renegotiated to emphasize sensory and affective responses that did not require "being there." It shows how war literature surveys sites of spatial negotiation both literary and geographic. These places-which range from the cemeteries of Herman Melville's Battle-Pieces to the neighborhood of a ruined plantation in Charles Chesnutt's conjure stories-retain a contingent status from a time when the nation's fate was undecided. Thus, they allow for the imaginative restructuring of national hierarchies including race, gender, and time. The first chapter, "'For Braveries, Remote as This': Emily Dickinson and the Circumference of the Nation," reads the writer's wartime letters and poems together to show how Dickinson produces a rhetoric of circumference to understand the distances generated by war. Building on the generic questions raised by studying Dickinson's war writing, the second chapter argues that Herman Melville's first collection of poetry, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866), adopts and adapts the epitaphic genre to demonstrate how the war interrupted traditional human relations with place and time. The third chapter, "Near Andersonville: Race and Place in Early American Regionalism," constructs an alternative genealogy of regionalism and its interrogation of gender and race through readings of Winslow Homer's painting Near Andersonville and seldom-studied magazine sketches by Rebecca Harding Davis and Constance Fenimore Woolson. Finally, the project's examination of the racialization of space extends to a reading of geophagy, or earth eating, in the final chapter "'More Predial than Proprietary': Consuming Place in Charles Chesnutt's Short Fiction." A coda on Civil War memory in "Mark Twain Country" shows how questions about the indeterminate places of war continue to haunt the stories that America tells about its past.

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2015-05-24

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nineteenth-century American literature; geography; Civil War

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Samuels,Shirley R

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McCullough,Mary K.
Fried,Debra

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English Language and Literature

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Ph. D., English Language and Literature

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document

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dissertation or thesis

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