Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John-Michael Rivera

Second Advisor

Jillian Heydt-Stevenson

Third Advisor

Gillian Silverman

Fourth Advisor

Paul Youngquist

Fifth Advisor

Jordan A. Stein


This project enacts a recovery of travel writing's vital importance not only to the institution of American literature and authorship in the early nineteenth century, but to the very foundation of the nation itself. Far from existing on the margins of American letters, travel narratives performed a critical role in a high-stakes battle to produce an entire culture--politics, history, science, and literature--of the United States, freed from European antecedents and in defiance of a British intellectual legacy perceived as royalist, imperially corrupt, and infested with colonial power dynamics. This dissertation mines the print culture and historical currents of the era to rewrite traditional notions of literary history, challenging the novel's accepted centrality in the early formulation of literary canons and placing travel narratives at the heart of the intellectual and print marketplace of the early nineteenth century. A network of publishers, editors, scientists, and explorer-authors undertook an ambitious project to defy lingering British influence in a United States barely sixty years from independence. This intelligentsia sought to create not just an American literature, but an entire system of knowledge that originated from, and was authored by, the nascent nation. The tools of book history, including original archival research and an analysis of the publication, circulation, and reception of a seemingly unrelated group of travel texts, reveal that travel narratives served as the key instrument of this mission. The travelogues examined in this dissertation capture the indeterminate position of a young United States caught between nascent imperialism and post-colonial insecurity, revealing the still-precarious base from which the fledgling nation struggled to rise. Thus, this study establishes travel accounts not only as the implements of imperialism, as they are conventionally understood, but also as texts of decolonial resistance and vibrant participants in the effort to construct--materially and intellectually--a new nation from the unstable leavings of empire.