Date of Degree

9-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor(s)

Duncan Faherty

Committee Members

Alan Vardy

Alexander Schlutz

Subject Categories

American Literature | Arts and Humanities | Literature in English, British Isles | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority

Keywords

nomadism, American Indian, Gypsy, Romani, Early American literature, British Romantic literature, imperialism

Abstract

Nomadic Dispossessions investigates the significance of two ubiquitous and stereotypical figures – the “Indian” and the “Gypsy” – within a shared British and Anglo-American literary cultural imaginary at the turn of the nineteenth century. Comparing the literary depictions of the Romani within the British isles with American Indians of the United States reveals the figure of the nomad as a vital but often overlooked instrument of imperial power within the shared Anglo-American literary and cultural imaginary from the 1780s to the 1810s. In fact, representations of American Indians and British Romanies, I argue, show nomadism to be a blind spot within existing scholarship on both literary figures. During this period – an era of increased industrialization, new modes of travel, and changing relations between Britain and the United States – American Indians and British Romani are popularly imagined as synonymous with nomadic existence. Consequently, these figures become symbols of outdated, dangerous modes of livelihood and mobility within their respective national contexts. As an internal figure – that is, residing within or adjacent to the nation’s borders – the nomad signifies a lack of industrious labor and private property, serving as a reminder of the porousness of national boundaries as Britain and the United States sought to consolidate national identity to expand imperial power. As such, the nomad emerges as one of the repeated and varied but still fundamental imperial tropes, which make legible the transnational operations of empire throughout British and American cultural and literary imaginaries. By focusing on the neglected figure of the nomad in literary culture, this dissertation illuminates the centrality of mobility in constructing and expanding the borders – both ideological and physical – of Great Britain and the new United States of America. My study reveals the figuration of the “Indian” and “Gypsy” as criminal and savage nomads to be one of the oldest tropes in Anglo-American literary production. Examining texts spanning the literatures of Britain and the United States, this dissertation demonstrates the significance of nomadism within an emerging culture of imperial expansion, which was shared and developed between Britain and the United States. Ultimately, a sharpened focus on the issue of nomadism provides new insight into the imperial agenda of popular literature, as well as a more comprehensive understanding of British-American imperial culture through the lens of mobility at the turn of the nineteenth century.

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