Date of Degree

6-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor(s)

Duncan Faherty

Committee Members

Duncan Faherty

Eric Lott

David S. Reynolds

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | Christianity | Cultural History | History of Religion | Intellectual History | Literature in English, Anglophone outside British Isles and North America | Literature in English, North America | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Other American Studies | Other Philosophy | Other Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion | Social History

Keywords

Atlantic, Literature, Diaspora, Christianity, Providence, Capital

Abstract

Providential capitalism names the marriage of providential Christian values and market-oriented capitalist ideology in the post-revolutionary Atlantic through the mid nineteenth century. This is a process by which individuals permitted themselves to be used by a so-called “divine economist” at work in the Atlantic market economy. Backed by a slave market, capital transactions were rendered as often violent ecstatic individual and cultural experiences. Those experiences also formed the bases for national, racial, and classed identification and negotiation among the constellated communities of the Atlantic. With this in mind, writers like Benjamin Franklin, Olaudah Equiano, and Ukawsaw Gronniosaw presented market success as proof of divine election. At the same time, writers like Richard Henry Dana Jr., Royall Tyler, and the anonymous author of Humanity in Algiers offered hegemonic expansion as an integral part of a divine capitalist plan. However, writers like Ottobah Cugoano, Venture Smith, John Jea, and, later, Edgar Allan Poe, in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and Herman Melville, in Redburn: His First Voyage, recognized the dehumanizing potential of this power arrangement. They described the ways in which humans could be commodified or rendered invisible by the operations of a market that used individuals for its own ends and maintained the aegis of divine sovereignty. Urban Gothic novels like Charles Brockden Brown’s Arthur Mervyn or Memoirs of the Year 1793 and George Lippard’s The Quaker City, or The Monks of Monk Hall likewise commented upon the unsettling nationalist stakes of this power structure. This project reorients Atlantic critical and literary studies around this conflation of interests, philosophies, and theologies, which became culturally formative in the revolutionary period, blossomed throughout the post-revolutionary era, and reached a point of crisis by the mid-nineteenth century. Building upon current Atlantic scholarship, it uses a disparate array of authors and texts to demonstrate the diversity of responses to the emergence, proliferation, and watershed of providential capitalism for Atlantic cultures and individuals.

 
 

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