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Title:Surveying and the ecology of belonging in the nineteenth-century United States
Author(s):Thompson, Carl W.
Director of Research:Murison, Justine S
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Murison, Justine S
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Jones, Jamie L; Spires, Derrick R; Morrissey, Robert M; Wood, Gillen D
Department / Program:English
Discipline:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):American
American literature
environment
environmental humanities
survey
surveying
james fenimore cooper
john c fremont
william j wilson
ethiop
john wesley powell
anti-rent war
kansas-nebraska act
Abstract:By the early Nineteenth-Century United States, the myth of North America’s resource superabundance sat uneasily with the nation’s liberal doctrine of individual rights. Imagining a vast continent of endless resources available to all, Americans then cordoned them off as property accessible only by the few. The arbiter of this process—the figure who came to symbolize the legal rights and guarantees of property—was the surveyor. This occupation was at once a signifier of class and education and an entryway for the aspirational. George Washington possessed the social and mathematical credentials to serve as a surveyor in colonial Virginia, and Abraham Lincoln would later receive his first political appointment as a surveyor in Illinois. As the century proceeded, the surveyor facilitated the distribution of public lands to a citizenry eager to participate in the nation’s project of settler-colonial expansion, charting townships, mapping the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, and clearing the way for infrastructural development and westward emigration. Even a brief flight across the Midwestern United States today showcases the surveyor’s legacy in the angular patchwork of farms and roadways authorized by the Land Ordinance of 1785. Because surveyors prominently worked through the medium of land, they had an understated impact on the formation of citizenship and civic belonging as it related to property ownership; nor was this impact lost on many Americans. In this dissertation project, I argue that land surveyors have played an outsized yet understudied role in the literary discourse of the nineteenth-century United States, symbolizing the legal guarantees of property and determining practices of land apportionment and access. Frequently, the figure of the surveyor appears in this archive of literature—a broad range of novels, short stories, sketches, essays, political publications, and surveys—as an agent of the state and the elite, protecting land monopolies and resource claims. In surprising cases, however, he is mobilized as a champion of the disenfranchised and under-classed against state overreach and the excesses of the wealthy. Because the surveyor’s contribution to placemaking often fails to conform neatly to traditional modes of pre- and post-bellum periodization in American literary study, I have instead organized my chapters geographically, focusing in turn on upstate New York, the Kansas-Nebraska Border, Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the southwestern United State. Through these sites I narrate the uneasy growth of American empire and the strategies employed to conform to or resist the social and legal frameworks of American citizenship.
Issue Date:2020-09-28
Type:Thesis
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/109477
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Carl W. Thompson
Date Available in IDEALS:2021-03-05
Date Deposited:2020-12


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