English Language and Literature ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-12-2019


This project studies how ethnic American literature of the long nineteenth century represents the relationship between the dispossession of lands and lives—the histories of settler colonialism and slavery—and the making of democracy and capitalism in the United States. We often think of this relationship in terms of temporally distinct stages in which the formal equality of democracy and the marketplace overcome and thus leave behind the direct domination of colonization and enslavement. However, I focus on how the early novels of Indigenous, African, and Mexican American writers from the period of manifest destiny to the New Deal era represent the ways colonial and racial dispossession are not overcome by but in fact underpin and cohere liberal democracy and its market economy. I argue that the formal dissonance of these early novels—the way the narrative and aesthetic structures of these works contain irresolvable tensions and oppositions that foreclose harmony or unity in their formal visions or experiences—embodies how the social cohesion, cooperation, and consent required for liberal democracy and the wage labor relation are produced through and continue to depend on Native dispossession and anti-Black subjection. In doing so, they serve as a key literary history or archive of narrative forms mapping a formative period in the history of racial capitalism. These early novels reveal how whiteness and settler sovereignty serve as the linchpins of capitalism. That is, they demonstrate how the violence of anti-Indianness and anti-Blackness generates the forms of unity among settlers that help overcome the contradictions of US capitalism in ways that enable its meteoric expansion in the long nineteenth century when the United States transforms from a settler colony into a settler empire at the center of the world system in the twentieth century. In this way, my project contributes to how we understand race and capitalism. It shows not only how capitalism depends on producing racial, colonial, gender, and sexual difference, but also how the ability for capitalism to expand in the face of its internal conflict between labor and capital is made possible through this unity among settlers generated by colonization and enslavement.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Dr. Jesse Alemán

Second Committee Member

Dr. Alyosha Goldstein

Third Committee Member

Dr. Daniel Worden

Fourth Committee Member

Dr. Phillip Wegner

Project Sponsors

UNM Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship and UNM Center for Regional Studies Hector Torres Fellowship


Slavery, Settler Colonialism, Capitalism, Literary Form, The Novel, Whiteness

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