The Poets' Labor: Industrialization and the Place of Poetry in Antebellum America Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Smith, Robin
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • The Poets’ Labor: Industrialization and the Place of Poetry in Antebellum America argues that, in the three decades prior to the Civil War, particularly in the 1840s, male newspaper poets and the first generation of female industrial workers used poetry to represent and manage Americans’ increasing anxieties about industrialization. Recent work on nineteenth-century American poetry has demonstrated verse’s social and cultural importance to antebellum Americans but it has neglected the way that rapid industrialization shifted Americans’ understanding of poetry and its relation to labor. To better understand the shift, this study employs an historicist-formalist methodology: by combining close-reading with an historical consideration of a poet’s occupational context - especially a poet’s experience of the changed sounds, pace, and social relations of that workplace due to industrialization - I uncover these poets capturing the new sounds and pace of labor through formal devices such as rhythm, rhyme, and repetition. Gender made a tremendous difference in how industrialization was perceived by antebellum Americans, therefore the four chapters examine the neglected poetry of two groups, female textile workers and male newspaper poets, who experienced major shifts in the way they worked due to the formation of the factory and the introduction of the steam-powered printing press. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that the first generation of female industrial workers turned to poetry to demonstrate their humanity and mastery over the dehumanizing effects of industrial labor, and male professional poets wrote poetry to demonstrate the opposite, that is, the extent to which poetic production had become rote and mechanical in an industrial age.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Robinson, Michelle
  • Taylor, Beverly
  • Richards, Eliza
  • Thrailkill, Jane
  • Marr, Timothy
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2018

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