The black newspaper and the American nation, 1827-1862

Fagan, Benjamin Patrick, Department of English, University of Virginia
McDowell, Deborah, Department of English, University of Virginia
Lott, Eric, Department of English, University of Virginia
Brickhouse, Anna, Department of English, University of Virginia

An overwhelming number of black American writers and activists in the antebellum period devoted themselves to the cause of the black newspaper. For example, Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany each edited multiple journals, with Douglass going so far as to relocate himself and his family in order to start his North Star. Though beset by difficulties ranging from delinquent subscribers to hostile mobs, the independent newspaper emerged as a crucial institution for free black.Americans. My dissertation engages with post national American Studies, religious studies, and the history of the book to rigorously examine how the most important medium of the day—the newspaper—at once interrogated and reimagined the very notion of an American nation. I contend that in addition to hosting numerous debates regarding the shape of a specifically black American nation, early black newspapers developed sophisticated theories of-national formation that posited an American identity uncoupled from a necessary identification with the political entity of the United States.

Despite the importance antebellum black Americans placed on the newspaper, the early black press remains a relatively unexplored archive. My dissertation recovers these essential sources by closely examining six early black American newspapers: Freedom's Journal, the Colored American, the North Star, Frederick Douglass' Paper, the Provincial Freeman, and the Weekly Anglo-African. In each case, I pay particular attention to the specific conditions of producing and maintaining the newspaper, including factors such as location, printing, and distribution. I also consider how literary items appearing in the pages of the papers—such as poetry and serialized novels engaged with and often complicated the journals' political project. Indeed, my study emphasizes the deep connections between the material existence of a newspaper and its rhetorical strategies. Bringing much-needed attention to a rich archive, The Black Newspaper and the American Nation argues that narrations of the nation in the early black press reveal not a singular, static conception of American national formation, but rather a variety of theories that each envisioned, to a varying degree, an America free from the occupation of the United States.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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