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About the project

Status: archive

Project team: Mark Algee-Hewitt, J.D. Porter, Hannah Walser;

Start date: Jan 1, 2017

End date: Dec 18, 2020

Last updated: Jan 1, 2023

Presentation on “Identity”
May 31, 2018

This project, which aimed to reconstruct racial discourse in American literature, tracks three critical aspects of the representation of race and ethnicity in a corpus of over 18,000 American novels published between 1789 and 1920. It developed a historically sensitive account of the ethnicities that most occupied the nation’s racial imaginary, registering how different ethnic groups were perceived to be biologically, geographically, or socially linked. Second, it tracked the descriptive terms most associated with particular ethnicities over time as we trace the changing discursive fields surrounding particular racial groups. Finally, it explored the coherence of the discourse around each race and ethnicity represented across American literature before 1920, paying close attention to the ways in which various groups did or did not exist as semantically unified groups at specific historical moments. Taken together, these three questions show not just who was under discussion and how, but also the history—and historicity—of racialization and ethnic thinking writ large.