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Minor Subjects in America: Everyday Childhoods of the Long Nineteenth Century

In my American studies dissertation, I argue that contrary to dominant discourses of separation between spaces of childhood and adulthood, representations of indigeneity, both explicit and implied, affirm the quotidian presence of social and political structures naturalized through children’s culture. Children’s literature, Native American autobiographies, and advice literatures historicize gendered inequalities reliant on particular racial representations. In other words, the intersections of gendered and racialized inequalities surface forcefully in these genres as spaces produced to reify the subjugation of minor and marginal identities through historical narratives. I understand children and the spaces they inhabit to constantly negotiate power, agency, and innocence in a way that is both fundamental to national identity, and at the same time made inaccessible to the adult population through age difference and legal subjectivity. However distant, the tensions between adult and child flex as the desire for a malleable offspring comes up against American models of independence, between creating boundaries for children and negotiating these boundaries, all of which make children’s culture a complex and complicated space for the study of national identity. Methodologically, the chapters take up an interdisciplinary approach, reading representations of women’s culture, fantasy, children, and indigeneity within legal frameworks in order to make visible the dynamic ways in which nationhood permeates everyday life. The interpellation of children into white supremacist, patriarchal, heteronormative U.S. national identity is read through primary texts such as The Tales of Peter Parley, The Whole History of Grandfather’s Chair (1841), Margaret Fuller’s “The Great Lawsuit,” Lydia Sigourney’s Letters to Young Ladies (1833) and Letters to Mothers (1839), and Zitkala-Ša’s serial periodical, “Impressions of an Indian Childhood” (1900) and Eastman's serial periodical, “Recollections of the Wild Life” (1893). These diverse texts are in conversation through a theoretical framework that recognizes the coding of behavior and identity, reliant on representations of Native American bodies and culture.
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