Original\Copy\Kin: Rethinking Intellectual Property in American Literature, 1840-1930

Durkin, Katelyn, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Greeson, Jennifer, Department of English, University of Virginia

My project reorients Benedict Anderson’s well-known theory of the nation as an imagined community by attending to the rapid development of United States intellectual property law between 1850 and 1930 and the resulting social effects. If the nation is an imagined community, I ask, what does it matter that some forms of imagination can be made property, often owned by individuals, as authorized by federal law? How does the legal transformation of imagination into ownable, alienable goods alter or even condition the imagined national community? These questions are especially complex when considered in terms of the fraught history of possessive individualism in the United States, and I also study the intersections between copyright law, slave law, and family law. My overall claim is that the expansion of U.S. intellectual property law has been integral to a particular articulation of American nationalism, one that prioritizes individual property, originality, and the nuclear family. But while American literature circulates according to the provisions of U.S. intellectual property law, and although many nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century authors lobbied for augmented copyright protections, I argue that American literature is nonetheless a key resource for rethinking intellectual property and the particular version of national kinship it promotes. I look to American literature as a resource for denaturalizing intellectual property law and the versions of authorship, individuality, and kinship it assumes. By considering writings by William Wells Brown, Josephine Brown, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton, I analyze how the United States does, and might differently, coordinate the relationship between imagination, material property, and the national community. With this dissertation, I demonstrate that late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American literature presents queer, interracial, extralegal, and even transhistorical families as integral to creative pursuits. Not all of these kinships are benevolent, equitable, and equally chosen, but they all point to the constraints inherent in imagining national and familial kinship only in terms of legitimacy and property.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
American Literature, Intellectual Property
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