Before Subculture: Nineteenth-Century Genealogies of the Underground


LAC Burkhardt




For residence at the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania during academic year 2017-2018


“Before Subculture” investigates the emergence of the concept of the underground in the United States. The project excavates a vibrant world of nineteenth-century subterranean writing, including Black radical manifestos, anarchist periodicals, secret societies’ initiation rites, and amateur newspapers. By distinguishing the underground, a term introduced in the early nineteenth century, from subculture, a term coined in the twentieth, the study considers subversion as a historically specific concept whose earlier formations look surprisingly different from our own. How did the underground take shape, and what resources might we yet find there for contemporary practices of cultural resistance? “Before Subculture” uncovers a familiar concept’s surprising origins, forgotten dimensions, and unrealized possibilities.