In Transit: Women, Photography, and The Consolidation of Race in Nineteenth-Century America

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Casey, Brenna Casey


Wald, Priscilla

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In Transit: Women, Photography, and the Consolidation of Race in Nineteenth-Century America charts the accretion of historical and often obscured memory upon our textual and visual world. Rapid innovations in transportation and photographic technologies developed alongside processes of violent racialized conflict in the antebellum United States. The coincidence of these phenomena in the long nineteenth-century elaborated racial and gender differences through textual and visual production. This dissertation analyzes the evidences of these naturalized narratives in the oscillating movements of women required to navigate multiple, indiscrete, and often unconventional identity categories.

In Transit traces the physical, textual, and imagistic movements of three figures of intrigue—colonial Peru’s tapada limeña, the sensational white captive Olive Oatman, and the famed abolitionist Sojourner Truth. It does so at three flashpoints of United States policy that mark the violent refinement of racial and gender formations: the specter of Latin American independence, Indian Removal, and the protracted Abolition of Slavery. This project demonstrates the ways in which white Americans of the nineteenth-century turned to cultural and commercially available representations of gendered and racialized difference to make sense of their quickly shifting world. These cultural products of Enlightenment-era Europe—travelogues and art works that could help piece together the meaning of new persons represented by new media—are deeply implicated by long histories of colonialism, enslavement, and empire. This project contends that formations of race and racist ideology in the United States are the outcome of the dense transfer of interracial intimacy across global networks. By demonstrating the permeability of narrative and photographic frames for these women and others like them, this project exposes both penetrable national borders and porous boundaries of abiding racial identities.






Casey, Brenna Casey (2017). In Transit: Women, Photography, and The Consolidation of Race in Nineteenth-Century America. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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