Beyond Obsolescence: The Reconstruction of Abolitionist Texts


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Antebellum abolitionist writing has long been revered by cultural historians and literary scholars for the “cultural work” that it performed: namely, to help bring about the end of slavery in the United States. But what happened to abolitionist texts, initially primed with a pointed and timely social agenda, after emancipation? Most critical conversations around major abolitionist texts focus on their original antebellum publications. This study challenges that reductive frame and demonstrates the significance of the republication, adaptation, and reception of those texts during their afterlives from 1863 to 1877, well after slavery had been abolished. Drawing on extensive archival research as well as scholarship on book history and material culture, this project connects textual revisions to the shifting politics of Reconstruction—and especially the debate over the political position of the African Americans the original abolitionist texts had sought to emancipate.