Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Jeffrey N. Cox

Second Advisor

Paul Youngquist

Third Advisor

Thora Brylowe

Fourth Advisor

Lori Emerson

Fifth Advisor

Helmut Muller-Sievers

Abstract

This dissertation investigates the relationship between communication, infrastructural expansion, and political ideology in Romantic Britain. I argue that during Britain’s protracted war with France between 1789 and 1815, William Pitt’s government weaponized communication in a manner that was historically unprecedented, establishing the optical telegraph, Post Office, and packet boat networks, which together enabled swift military communication and surveillance of domestic radicalism. Thanks to these war-driven networks, for people in Britain long-distance communication became paradoxically more reliable and less secure than ever before. At the same time, I argue, the government’s investment in expanded communications for its military purposes prompted a “media consciousness” in the period’s literature that saw Romantic writers actively expose and contest the political ideology inscribed in the state’s communication media. Even as Britain’s newly robust communication infrastructures sped up the pace of society and paved the way for our own connected present, they were contested and altered by the cultural productions they inspired. As writers worked to expose the ideology imbued in a given communication technology, they also actively remade and sought to resist it. My project advances a history of media in which communication technologies not only mediated cultural productions but were themselves actively remade by their literary representations.

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