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Traveling South

Travel Narratives and the Construction of American Identity

John D. Cox

Publication Year: 2005

Traveling South is the first major study of how narratives of travel through the antebellum South helped construct an American national identity during the years between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. John Cox makes his case on the basis of a broad range of texts that includes slave narratives, domestic literature, and soldiers' diaries, as well as more traditional forms of travel writing. In the process he extends the boundaries of travel literature both as a genre and as a subject of academic study.

The writers of these intranational accounts struggled with the significance of travel through a region that was both America and “other.” In writings by J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur and William Bartram, for example, the narrators create personal identities and express their Americanness through travel that, Cox argues, becomes a defining aspect of the young nation. In the narratives of Frederick Douglass and Solomon Northup, the complex relationship between travel and slavery highlights contemporary debates over the meaning of space and movement. Both Fanny Kemble and Harriet Jacobs explore the intimate linkings of women's travel and the construction of an ideal domestic space, whereas Frederick Law Olmsted seeks, through his travel writing, to reform the southern economy and expand a New England yeoman ideology throughout the nation. The Civil War diaries of Union soldiers, written during the years that witnessed the largest movement of travelers through the South, echo earlier themes while concluding that the South should not be transformed in order to become sufficiently “American”; rather, it was and should remain a part of the American nation, regardless of perceived differences.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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p. vii


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p. ix

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pp. 1-18

Travel made the United States. As both a country and a concept, America was founded on movement--of people, of ideas, of goods. Of course, international immigration has been central to American identity since the earliest European exploration, but travel within the continent likewise played a significant role in the creation...

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CHAPTER ONE: Representing America: The American as Traveler in the Work of J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur and William Bartram

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pp. 19-62

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer (1782) has long been read as an American national epic, a founding document of the newly emerging United States. D. H. Lawrence famously stated, "Franklin is the real practical prototype of the American. Crèvecoeur is the emotional" (29). Albert E. Stone, in his 1963 introduction...

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CHAPTER TWO: Moving Slaves: Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, and the Politics of Travel in Antebellum America

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pp. 63-102

On April 6, 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott filed petitions in St. Louis, Missouri, suing the widow of John Emerson for their freedom on the grounds that they were no longer slaves, having previously resided for two years in a free state, Illinois, and having been transported by their owner, John Emerson, into a free territory, the Wisconsin Territory...

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CHAPTER THREE: Domestic Travel: The Narratives of Fanny Kemble and Harriet Jacobs

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pp. 103-140

Although travel during the early years of the nineteenth century may have provided male travelers, both free and slave, the occasion to fashion versions of a representative national identity, travel gave women the opportunity to step outside of their normal domestic routines and to investigate from a new perspective...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Yeomen All: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Consolidation of the American Economy and Culture

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pp. 141-164

In a brief letter to his younger brother, John, Frederick Law Olmsted once wrote, "I believe that our farmers are, and have cause to be, the most contented men in the world" (qtd. in Fein 12). For a man who regularly left his own farm in the hands of other family members or various tenants, this statement seems rather ironic...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Tourists with Guns (and Pens): Union Soldiers and the Civil War South

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pp. 165-192

By far, the four years that witnessed the largest movement of travelers through various parts of the South were those between 1861 and 1865. During these years, approximately two million northern visitors, most members of the Union Army, traveled to or through at least one of the southern states. During this same period...

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pp. 193-198

As I have argued throughout this work, travel literature played an integral role in the struggle to create a national identity. Between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, numerous northern travelers headed south to investigate the region that was widely seen to constitute the primary barrier to a clearly unified national culture...


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pp. 199-230

Works Cited

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pp. 231-242


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pp. 243-252

E-ISBN-13: 9780820330860
E-ISBN-10: 0820330868
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820327655
Print-ISBN-10: 0820327654

Page Count: 254
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 182622856
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Traveling South

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 1783-1850 -- History and criticism
  • United States -- Description and travel -- Sources.
  • Travelers' writings, American.
  • Travel in literature.
  • Southern States -- In literature.
  • United States -- Civilization -- 1783-1865 -- Sources.
  • Southern States -- Description and travel -- Sources.
  • National characteristics, American -- History -- Sources.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
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