Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Mark M Smith


Despite recent interest in the efforts of antebellum southerners to modernize their society, the role of gaslight technology in the southern campaign to modernize on their own terms has remained wholly neglected in the scholarly literature. Most scholars of lighting technology are aware that in 1802, separate inventors in England and France unveiled their gaslight innovations to celebrate the Peace of Amiens. Often, however, scholars remain unaware that at the same time inventors in the American South had independently developed their own technologies for producing artificial light from gas.

I argue that the enthusiastic embrace of gaslight by white urban southerners reflected their commitment to a path to modernization intended to bolster some of the most conservative aspects of their culture, including slavery. Increasingly, the southern defense of slavery rested upon the claim that an orderly path of "progress" could only be sustained by their hierarchical, organic social relations. By focusing on the cultural meanings of gaslight, I demonstrate some of the ways that "progress" became a central component to white southerners' attempts to modernize their region.


© 2012, Phillip Richardson