Author ORCID Identifier

0000-0003-0395-3184

Date of Award

Summer 8-9-2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Gina Caison

Second Advisor

Elizabeth West

Third Advisor

Mark Noble

Abstract

This dissertation primarily examines US historical novels and textbooks that shaped sentiments about race in the United States during the twentieth century. Its four chapters analyze some of the most popular writing about US history, specifically US history textbooks published before and after some of the most popular US historical novels of the twentieth century: The Clansman (1905), Gone with the Wind (1936), Roots (1976), and Beloved (1987). A comparative analysis of these novels and textbooks reveals that sentimental writing about US history, which this dissertation calls sentimental historiography, fundamentally shaped US historical writing and teaching of the twentieth century. The first half of the dissertation establishes that sentimental historiography appears in predominantly white authored US novelists’ and historians’ engagement with literary devices, such as the descriptive mode that Toni Morrison calls American Africanism, which often renders white figures the central protagonists of American literature and history while rendering Black figures as marginal characters or antagonists. The second half of the dissertation argues that Black writers of history and literature successfully contested sentimental historiography before, during, and after the Black US civil rights movement. It illustrates they did so by developing a form of historical writing that this dissertation calls counter sentimental historiography, which revised the sentimental form of US history with “counter-American Africanism” and also became popular in mainstream historiography. Despite its popularity, however, counter sentimental historiography waned towards the end of the twentieth century. The dissertation concludes by considering how conservative activists and market factors caused counter sentimental historiography to fall out of favor and sentimental historiography to resurge during the 1980s and 1990s.

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