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Name: Tomos Hughes

PhD: The literature of the Reconstruction period in the United States 

Thesis Title: America’s Imagined Revolution: Making Narrative, Shaping Politics and Conceiving the New South after Reconstruction


Thesis Description:

My thesis examines postbellum American literature and print culture (primarily relating to the US South) between 1865 and 1914 to explore how writers and cultural critics narrativised and memorialised the Reconstruction period. I explore how explicitly political writers harnessed visions of “The Old South”, emancipation and Reconstruction to fantasise about a “New South” and to shape an historical and artistic record which depicted Reconstruction as a revolutionary moment. In doing so I explore how writers who were themselves engaged in political activity used fictions of Reconstruction to theorise the process of revolution itself. 

Literary scholars and cultural historians have recently focussed on the huge output of American novels and print material depicting the emancipation and Reconstruction periods in the South and have uncovered the extent to which these materials shaped a reactionary national narrative of Reconstruction as a political and social disaster. Scholars have also demonstrated the extent to which such cultural material helped to foster a sentimental aesthetics of reunion which preconditioned the South’s political reintegration into an expansionist nation by covering over the social claims of emancipated people and aiding in the revival of white supremacist politics. My work builds on this existing scholarship, exploring not so much writers used southern history to pursue a political agenda but how those agendas were themselves warped and formed by the ways in which writers used the transition from slavery to project changing class relations. Where recent scholars have charted how the cultural materials I examine obscured socio-economic contradictions and bolstered pervasive narratives of nationalism, racial paternalism and white supremacy I seek to uncover the surprising ways in which these discourses dwelt upon and engaged with political-economic processes and ideas which appeared to challenge their explicit politics. Exploring tensions in the political poetics of writers on Reconstruction and southern politics I intervene in historical debates over the emergence of capitalist social relations from slavery and explore the cultural implications of social and economic hybridity in the decades after emancipation   

By exploring self-consciously political and didactic writing I seek to elucidate how political ideology is mutated by its conversion into a narrative object. Analysing contradictions in the imaginary life of political forms I seek to challenge how we understand the broader relationship between cultural practice, class and political-economic change.

My thesis engages with a range of canonical and less well known nineteenth-century authors including George Washington Cable, Albion Tourgeé, Charles Chesnutt, Frances Harper and W.E.B. DuBois. In addition to using fictional materials and essays by authors of fiction I examine the national magazine press and read fictional works alongside legal material and works by historians of the day to uncover the pervasive influence of a developing political aesthetics which sought in variously sublimated ways to theorise the transition from slavery to capitalism.  

Supervisors and Institution(s): <add text>

Professor Sharon Monteith, Nottingham Trent University

Dr Anthony Hutchison, University of Nottingham


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

year: 2017

  • “‘Indeed, I am bound’: Reading (and Writing) Capital, Labour and Slavery in ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener’”, Melville's Crossings - Eleventh International Melville Conference, King's College London , King’s College, London, June 2017

  • "We Practice what we Preach: Irony, Speech and State Formation in Albion Tourgee's Narrative of Reconstruction", Southern American Studies Association Conference, College of William and Mary (March 2017). 


year: 2016

  • "America's Imagined Revolution", Midlands3Cities Research Festival, Nottingham Trent University (May, 2016) 
  • "The 'No South' as a 'Style of Home': Class and Race in George Washington Cable's Liberal Critique of Reconstruction", Society for the Study of Southern Literature Conference, Boston University (March, 2016).


Other Research Interests:

  • Nineteenth-century American literature
  • Political fiction and the relation between politics and aesthetics.
  • Marxist theory and the Frankfurt school. 
  • Slavery and Capitalism in the US.  


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