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Naturalizing empire : citizenship, sovereignty, and antebellum American literature


"Naturalizing Empire" examines processes of U.S. empire- building through a comparative analysis of U.S. American influence in Liberia, Hawai'i, and Nicaragua in the mid- nineteenth century, focusing on cultural representations of agents of empire assuming or imposing different national identities to gain control of territory and establish networks of trade. I consider how issues of naturalization and sovereignty were bound up within different forms of literary and print culture in order to address the imperial and anti-imperial politics of both canonical and non-canonical literature. This dissertation extends recent scholarship in American literary and cultural studies that examines forms of imperialism beyond the framework of the nation-state, focusing on actions distinct from (and even antagonistic to) the U.S. state and its official representatives. I address the relationship between antebellum culture and different imperial formations that involve selectively disclaiming U.S. national identity as well as controlling a politically independent territory as a means of configuring the U.S. as an exception to (and exceptional) empire. Each chapter addresses particular genres of print culture, including the historical romance, sentimentalism, and cultures of sensation. In chapter one I examine sentimental writings about Liberia by Sarah Hale, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Helen Knight. In this chapter I also examine critiques of colonization in African American literature, specifically Martin Delany's letters, speeches, and fiction. My second chapter focuses on the Pacific historical romances of James Fenimore Cooper and James Jackson Jarves. In contrast to these texts, I also examine the historiography of Native Hawaiian writers David Malo and Samuel Kamakau that challenged the U.S. presence in the Pacific. Finally, chapter three analyzes sensational stories of filibustering in Nicaragua and representations of the filibuster public sphere in the newspaper El Nicaragüense as well as Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. Taken as a whole, I suggest literary and other cultural representations of national identities and national boundaries, as well as the development of "American" literary genres, are in fact transnational formations that both facilitate and contest different forms of U.S. empire

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