National and Racial Identity and the Desire for Expansion: A Study of American Travel Narratives, 1790-1850
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This dissertation aims to investigate the shaping of a national literature within travel narratives written by William Bartram, Washington Irving, George Catlin, Thomas L. McKenney, Thomas Jefferson Farnham, and Francis Parkman. I focus attention on two issues: (1) National and racial identity, and (2) Territorial, cultural, and capitalist expansionism. National and racial identity construction is examined by clarifying how the narratives’ underlying voices—the National Symbolic and the Racial Symbolic—encourage the reading public to embrace the values vital in forging American collective identity. Identity invention is also seen in romantic representations of the American landscape and Native Americans. Between 1790 and 1850, the widespread trope of the Noble Savage and “distantiation” working in the Burkean aesthetics of the sublime were used as ideological frames for viewing “Others,” crucial in defining the American “self” by making the white Americans’ shift of association/dissociation with their primitivized Others possible. In order to analyze the narratives’ representation of expansionism as a national desire, this study investigates how romantic rhetoric and the appeal to morality (or the Law) were employed as decisive ideological foundations for rationalizing expansionism. Chapter I establishes the legitimacy of evaluating travel narratives as a significant part of America’s national literature. Chapter II reveals that democracy, masculine robustness, and the myth that Americans are a chosen people of progress are featured aspects in the portrayals of American pathfinders. Chapter III shows that the racial identity of “civilized whites” is forged in accordance with a miscegenation taboo informing negative portrayals of half-breeds and racial boundary crossing. Chapter IV illustrates that American freedom, simplicity, wholesome civilization, and youthfulness are presented as national characteristics through adapting the romantic tropes of the Noble Savage and the aesthetics of the sublime. Chapter V investigates the perverse mode of desiring in the iterative triangular relationship between romanticism, morality, and expansionism—the nation’s civilizing project par excellence. Chapter VI appraises the travel narratives’ roles in defining American selfhood and reflecting (and promoting) an imperialistic desire for expansion.
Jeong, Jin Man (2011). National and Racial Identity and the Desire for Expansion: A Study of American Travel Narratives, 1790-1850. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from