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The Shores of US Empire: Islands and Geographies of Historical Struggle in the Literary Imagination



The Shores of US Empire:

Islands and Geographies of Historical Struggle in the Literary Imagination

Emily Scheese

This dissertation gathers together 19th and 20th century texts produced along the shores of US geo-political expansion across land and sea. Engaging with the fields of transnational American cultural studies and postcolonial studies, this study articulates a transnational reading practice useful for addressing the writers and regions of the American West, the Pacific and the Caribbean in a transnational nexus called the Shores of US Empire. Methodologically inspired by Chinese American author Maxine Hong Kingston and Trinidadian born C.L.R James, the project outlines a practice of reading and writing transnationally that considers US literatures of travel in conversation with contemporary Pacific and Caribbean authors.

Chapter one addresses literatures of travel by American authors such as Richard Henry Dana, Jr. and Twain, whose texts, rather than simply being documentary or apologists of US imperial expansion, reflect contact zones of the contested cultural, political and geographical processes of expansion.

Chapter two focuses upon the creative literary imagination, looking for other possibilities and alternative epistemologies gleaned from Caribbean and Pacific authors. Drawing from the diverse political, creative and theoretical body of authors of the Spanish and French Caribbean like Martí, Retamar, Cabrera Infante and Carpentier, and Cesaire, Fanon, and Glissant as well as poetic authors from the Anglo-Caribbean like Derek Walcott, John Agard, and novelist Michelle Cliff, Chapter Two of this dissertation proffers a method of poetic historiography attentive to challenging western models of materialist history; the works of these authors provide an alternative historiography at sea in the Caribbean. These texts also critique the production of anthropological knowledge in the Caribbean and Pacific contexts.

Chapter three shifts back to the Pacific to look at the military legacy left by US imperial expansion and the social and cultural movements that have emerged to contest the US presence on Pacific shores. I address the contexts of Hawai'i and Bikini Atoll, considering texts by Rodney Morales and Kingston. Overall I argue that Pacific and Caribbean authors bring island geographies to the center of world historical events, challenging the overarching Euro-American myth of island isolation.

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