English Language and Literature ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-13-2017


Visual narratives are contested territory. They require tools from a variety of academic disciplines, and they defy the usual sets of interpretive strategies and systems of nomenclature in traditional humanities disciplines. This dissertation fills in one of the missing approaches to visual narratives; that is the long historical, interconnected view that renders visible significant connections among graphic narratives from the medieval manuscript to the contemporary comic book and graphic novel. The project articulates a theory of the long material and cultural life of visual narratives in a variety of media forms, including the manuscript, the early printed book, the lithograph series, and the comic book. The project records and embraces the preponderance of narrative images in a variety of media forms, and in doing so, argues that visual narratives are both typical methods of storytelling, and that their ubiquity has been used to create and disseminate narratives to larger groups of the public rather than small coterie groups. The typically popular and topical, and sometimes didactic nature of visual narratives makes them especially suited to a sort of populist politics even before the introduction of print and the advent of postindustrial mass culture. This project advances an understanding of all producers of visual narratives as laborers in a persistent mechanism of collective production, which remains present throughout all of the media examined in the dissertation.

The dissertation covers a temporally wide range of materials not only to prove the pervasiveness and intelligibility of narrative images across a variety of eras and media forms, but also to demonstrate repeated, often recursive, patterns of making and dissemination common to these different periods and forms. The geographic and cultural range is not as wide, owing much more to the time and space limitations of the dissertation rather than anything else. The project examines commonalities not to make a flattening gesture, but to reverse the institutional tendency of literary studies to undervalue or ignore typical, common works.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Jonathan Davis-Secord

Second Committee Member

Daniel Worden

Third Committee Member

Timothy Graham

Fourth Committee Member

Anita Obermeier




literature, medieval literature, comics studies, graphic narratives, interdisciplinary

Document Type