This dissertation traces two connected stories through the literary imagination of four American authors: William Dean Howells, Charles W. Chesnutt, Henry Adams, and James Weldon Johnson. Firstly, this dissertation examines the ideological role the expansion and ossification of the railway played in the development of American progressivism in the final decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth. I argue that the logic of the railway provided American writers with a new vocabulary through which to describe the abstract development of American history. Whereas in the eighteenth century, historical progress was conceived of as a course of human events, with the advent of the railway system, many began to imagine historical movement as a result of scientific certainties managed and developed by humans who conceived of themselves as not directly in control of those movements. By the twentieth century, the railway became what Henry Adams called an “Empire of Coal,” a material system of exchanges that spanned to globe and whose logic determined the moving limit of possibility for all civilization. Secondly, my dissertation tells the story of racial division in American during this period. Although the railway was often conceived of as a radically democratic space where the American people could interact as equals, this period also saw the development of state-sanctioned segregation laws against black citizens of the country. As the railway and its logic of historical development ossified in the minds of those who benefited from it, many black authors were perceptive critics of not only the politics of the railway but the underlying assumptions about how societies functioned that seemed to guarantee the dominant ideology’s concept of history. Taking my theoretical starting point in the works of Jacques Lacan and Karl Marx, I argue that in this period, the logic of the railway created a shift in the dominant assumptions of the nature of social differences. Whereas in the eighteenth century, racial difference had been conceived of as a historical constant, with the railway, racial difference became spatialized along the path of the railway.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2017. Major: English. Advisor: Lois Cucullu. 1 computer file (PDF); iii, 278 pages.
The Total Train System: Technology and Progressivism in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century American Literature.
Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,
Content distributed via the University of Minnesota's Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.