Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Catherine Keyser


This dissertation considers the intersection of technology and race in the literature of the American South from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Though narratives about technology in American literature often promise democracy, equality, improvement, and progress, the role of technology in southern literature is more complex and ambivalent. Literature from and about the South from the Civil War to the civil rights era, by Black and white southern authors like Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty reveals technology’s ability to uphold and naturalize southern white supremacy, but also to subvert it. Southern literature traces a pattern of technological white supremacy that predates contemporary scholarly debates about technology and race and reveals both strategic and unconscious uses of technology to support white supremacy in reaction to the threat of an egalitarian future. My dissertation will argue that though study of technological apparatuses themselves can be revealing, the study of the representations of these apparatuses in literature will emphasize a collision between the use of these objects and their shifting social meanings. The chapters, which focus on literary representations of mills, electricity, automobiles, and camera, reveal a pattern of prototypical whiteness that has existed since the advent of technology in the South and has shaped southern literature. The strategies exposed by southern literature begin by naturalizing the subjugation of enslaved Black people and end by attempting to hide white supremacy in plain sight through the implementation of apparently neutral technological systems. If literary and cultural studies are to continue examining the cultural narratives that led the nation to this technological moment, particular attention must be paid to a body of southern literature that explicates the contradictions, complexities, and latent white supremacy of narratives of technological progress.