Mobile Americans: Locomotion and Identity in US Visual Culture, 1860-1915


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


History of Art


During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, commentators often claimed Americans’ frequent geographic mobility as a distinctive cultural trait. Most celebrated locomotion as a constructive force and expression of individualism, yet some worried about its destabilizing effects. Certain forms of mobility, especially those of marginalized populations, elicited calls for greater regulation. Artists ranging from painter Eastman Johnson to filmmaker DW Griffith probed and complicated these distinctions through their depictions of modern life. This dissertation investigates the central role artistic representation played in shaping contemporary debates about locomotion and US culture through a critical examination of works that complicate the popular, romanticized mythology of Americans’ unbridled freedom to move.