- Assistant Professor
- University of Houston
Fictions of Territoriality: Legal and Literary Narratives of US Imperial Contestation Zones, 1844-1914
During the nineteenth century, the rapid territorial expansion of the United States raised unprecedented questions about the legal status of territories and their inhabitants. This dissertation examines the legal and literary texts that grappled with these debates over the relationship between race, rights, and imperial governance. It argues that while narratives of race, space, and time were invoked to withhold constitutional protections from racialized bodies, these fictions of territoriality were challenged or complicated by writers of color. Focusing on ‘contestation zones,’ or spaces where US law, culture, and understandings of race collided with at least one other competing system, this project uncovers the struggles to implement and resist the terms that structured American empire.
Fictions of Territoriality: Legal and Literary Narratives of Race, Geography, and US Empire
“Fictions of Territoriality” examines how US imperial boundaries and racial hierarchies were consolidated and contested from 1844 to 1914. Analyzing legal and cultural documents from four sites—extraterritorial cities in China, the Panama Canal zone, the Mexican Cession, and Indian Territory—it argues that US law and literature coproduced narratives about race and geography to naturalize the hierarchical management of certain jurisdictions and populations. Yet these fictions of territoriality were also appropriated and reimagined on behalf of Chinese, Latinx, black, and Native American communities. Through close readings of works by Mark Twain, María Ruiz de Burton, H.G. de Lisser, and Pleasant Porter, among others, the project reveals how a multiethnic set of American writers mobilized alternative geographies of belonging to articulate new forms of sovereignty and self-determination.