Home feelings with the past: Antebellum American literature and the anachronistic imagination

2003 2003

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Abstract (summary)

Home Feelings with the Past explores modes of historiographical thinking among antebellum writers in order to explore the relations of history and literature as well as the uses of history in literature. Informed by postmodern theory and neo-pragmatism, yet authorized by the practice of antebellum writers, the dissertation departs from a consensus of assumptions and methodologies that have governed American literary studies since the “historical turn” in order to suggest alternative ways of imagining literary history. I contend that the historicist tendency to view literary texts as both constituted by and constitutive of their historical moment risks consigning texts inexorably to a particular cross-section of history, shackling them to a single slice of historical time.

In the first part of the dissertation, I show that writers as different as Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Catharine Sedgwick, and Ralph Waldo Emerson all imagine history anachronistically, disrupting the historical sequence of events or ventriloquizing voices from one historical period into another in order to imagine alternatives to the sequential course of history. Narratives which themselves refuse to be bound to a single moment in history, I argue, do not invite a critical approach which seeks to link them to a particular historical context. By contrast, in the second part of the dissertation, I demonstrate how old texts might be studied fruitfully by emphasizing historical contexts other than their time of production. Thus, I, too, “commit” anachronism, placing works by James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville in relation to contemporary contexts. Unlike “new” historicists, then, my readings do not assume that text “belongs” to particular moments in time or that I can tell a story about the past uninfected by my own location in history. Rather, I strive to portray these texts as I apprehend or “recognize” them in the context of our own time. The works by Cooper and Melville, then, become not just indices of a bygone era, but documents that place us, as readers, in a constellation of past and present, that allow us to experience history, not simply to know it.

Indexing (details)

American literature;
American history;
American studies
0591: American literature
0337: American history
0323: American studies
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Language, literature and linguistics; Anachronistic imagination; Antebellum; Historiography; New historicism
Home feelings with the past: Antebellum American literature and the anachronistic imagination
Insko, Jeffrey Robert
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 64/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Bromell, Nicholas
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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