Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
This project uses the remarkable careers of anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing, stunt reporter Nellie Bly, anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, and war correspondent Richard Harding Davis, as well as literary texts by Davis and Henry James, to frame a set of questions about the politics and implications of cultural crossover at the end of the nineteenth century. Through their work as participant observers of racial, ethnic and social Others, these reporters, reformers, and authors were gradually transformed into charismatic exotics. More than simply mediating between a mainstream (usually white, middle-class) audience and a more exotic people or place, these individuals inserted themselves into the story and ultimately became its star. Putting their own bodies to work in this manner---as evidence and even spectacle---often meant transgressing the limits of what was socially acceptable for their gender, race, or class. The ensuing scrutiny and speculation, together with their efforts to manage this precarious celebrity, provide insight into the complex cultural tensions underlying America's emergence as a modern nation and imperial power.;As a white man who appeared to "go native," Cushing struggled to reaffirm his status as a serious scholar and dispel rumors that he had succumbed to the intoxicating pleasures of playing Indian. The divergent personas he adopted to describe his experience living as a Zuni suggest that the role of a Smithsonian scientist in primitive drag was an inherently unstable one at this moment. By blurring the boundary between "savage" and "civilized," Cushing threatened to disrupt the self-Other dichotomy which lay at the heart of America's emerging relationship to the exotic.;Despite the titillating social dislocations that her undercover stunts entailed, Bly, unlike Cushing, maintained a coherent performance of self and emphatic bodily presence. By filtering all experience through the lens of her own consciousness and asserting her middle-class femininity, Bly forged what I term personality armor, enabling her to float through the metropolis as an untainted observer while mesmerizing readers with a seemingly unabashed display of self.;Davis' work chronicling America's burgeoning empire posed little threat to his social standing, instead linking him to the gentlemen explorers who populated his fiction. While deeply implicated in the nation's outward imperial drive, Davis also sought to reassert boundaries, particularly those that protected the male body. to see him, as I do, as a proto Boy Scout, allows us to appreciate how freighted his early adventures were with the burden of future expectations.;Seizing upon the new visibility of spectacle lynchings, Wells adeptly manipulated the mechanisms of the exotic to "other" the white South before an external, international audience during and after her two British lecture tours. In addition to advancing the anti-lynching cause, the tours marked a turning point in Wells' sense of her own authority as a public figure. Her reception abroad as an American Negro lady, an oxymoron in the Jim Crow South, paradoxically emboldened her to adopt tactics more suited to a race man.
© The Author
Nichols, Caroline Carpenter, "Celebrity and the national body: Encounters with the exotic in late nineteenth-century America" (2008). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. Paper 1539623336.