Imagining Southern Spaces: Hemispheric and Transatlantic Souths in Antebellum US Writings

Dissertation by
Deniz Bozkurt-Pekár

This (completed) dissertation identifies the antebellum US as a transitional spatiotemporal setting under both globalization processes experienced in the world and national consolidation processes accompanied by expansionist movements in the US during the long-nineteenth century. In addition to these conditions, the slaveholding southern region of the country underwent a particularly intense period of (re)spatialization due to the intensifying debates on the abolition of slavery. Diverse actors with proslavery or abolitionist opinions (re)imagined the South according to their convictions and interests reaffirming or challenging the existing and dominant spatial configurations and spatialization patterns surrounding them. In doing so, they positioned the South within or outside of different (trans)regional, (trans)national, or imperial spaces or in economic, political, and cultural entanglements in hemispheric, circumcaribbean, and circumatlantic contexts.

Investigating spatialization processes through analyses of spatial imaginations about the South, this dissertation takes the question of slavery and its abolition as a factor that shaped the reactions of different antebellum actors mainly to the expansionist movements and to the national consolidation processes, but also to other (re)spatialization patterns of the era. To explore these reactions, it studies spatial imaginations of different antebellum actors about the South in the abolitionist and proslavery literature of the era. To this end, it analyses primarily five antebellum texts for the diverse spatial imaginations that they generate. These texts are William Gilmore Simms’s Southward Ho! (1855), Lucy Holcombe Pickens’s The Free Flag of Cuba (1855), William Wells Brown’s St. Domingo: Its Revolutions and Its Patriots (1854), Elizabeth D. Livermore’s Zoë, or the Quadroon’s Triumph (1855), and Martin R. Delany’s Blake; or the Huts of America (1859-61). Through close-readings of these texts and their contextualization among other literary productions as well as socio-political and cultural developments of the era, the work does not only point to a multitude of diverse Souths that various actors imagined but also challenges monolithic and provincial representations of the South as a provincial region distinct from the rest of the country.

The findings of this dissertation contribute to a new spatial semantics developed at the Collaborative Research Centre 1199: “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition,” by employing the concepts of spatial formats and orders as theoretical underpinnings and focusing on the emergence, functioning, and performances of different spatial configurations. Therefore, the work constitutes a step toward developing a better understanding of spatialization processes and carries methods and foci of cultural and literary studies into a pivotal position in this theoretical development.