Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Diffley, Kathleen

First Committee Member

Peters, John Durham

Second Committee Member

Round, Phillip

Third Committee Member

Stecopoulos, Harry

Fourth Committee Member

Thaggert, Miriam


As the American telegraph network began webbing across the nation in the 1840s

and 1850s, many first users turned to telegraphy as a way of understanding the complexity of the body, categories of identity, and the communities that constituted the nation. My dissertation traces these shifting responses to the technology during the late 1840s and early 1850s, a period often overlooked by historians of the telegraph and one marked by sectional polarization. The four cornerstone texts of my dissertation-- Nathaniel Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance (1852), William Wells Brown's Clotel (1853), Fanny Fern's Ruth Hall (1854), and John Rollin Ridge's Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta (1854)--demonstrate how writers and readers engaged with the discourse surrounding telegraphy as a means of interrogating some of the more conservative gender or racial identities endorsed in other contemporary fields of scientific inquiry, including phrenology, mesmerism, and electromagnetism. My project contextualizes these literary texts within popular print cultures of the period, arguing that the coding of identity in narrative encouraged readers to extend such semiotics to the bodies around them, and that the metaphors surrounding telegraphy informed constructions of race, gender, and nationality throughout the 1850s. Examining this connection between technology and embodiment provides insight into early-nineteenth- century conceptions of the relationship among scientific classification systems, machines, and bodies, and also reveals the constructed quality of these three categories. Historicizing the concept of disembodiment seems essential given our own tendency today to metaphorize digital media in ways that challenge and uphold traditional notions of embodied identities.


vii, 264 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 263-264).


Copyright © 2015 Lacey Worth Askeland