Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Kara Thompson

Committee Member

Robert Scholnick

Committee Member

Philip D. Beidler


This dissertation uses the military, technological, and environmental context of the Civil War, the First World War, and the Second World War to explain the evolution of American literature in the era of total war through eight key novels and related visual media. Because industrial weapons and massive draft armies had the capacity to destroy whole landscapes, visual and material artifacts of these wars emphasized the relationship between humans and the wastelands of war. When official rhetoric after each war emphasized regrowth and rebirth, redefining battlefields as sacred ground, the war novels of this period questioned heroism, idealism, and even humanism. Considering these novels as environmental texts reveals that they are not abstract political arguments but material correctives to the state's claim to speak for the dead. They must be read in terms of the technologies and landscapes to which they refer, necessitating a historical engagement with battlefields and artifacts as well as a critical engagement with theories of material ecocriticism and biopolitics. This framework of study reveals the ways that changing ideas about the environment shaped the modern American war novel and the ways that the material politics that these novels expressed also changed the representation of war in popular culture.



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