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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Nick Bromell

Second Advisor

Hoang Phan

Third Advisor

Britt Rusert

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | Literature in English, North America | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority


The Burdens of Responsibility traces the emergence of moral responsibility as both a concept and problem in the nineteenth-century United States. Drawing on a range of sources –works of literature, philosophy, domestic manuals, newspaper archives – I show how many Americans began to conceive of moral responsibility as distinct from both duty and rules of behavior prescribed by traditional social roles. Although ethicists today take this distinction for granted, it was an emergent and problematic space in the nineteenth-century United States, brought into being by historical forces, including the rise of market capitalism, abolition, changing women’s roles, and increasing concern with the responsibilities (not merely the rights) of democratic citizenship. I argue that American authors, thinkers, and citizens were compelled to negotiate the tension between familiar notions of duty (fixed, prescribed, automatic) and new calls for responsibility (improvised, self-authored, contextual).


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.