Archives of American Time
Literature and Modernity in the Nineteenth CenturyUniversity of Pennsylvania Press
American historians have typically argued that a shared experience of time worked to bind the antebellum nation together. Trains, technology, and expanding market forces catapulted the United States into the future on a straight line of progressive time. The nation's exceedingly diverse population could cluster around this common temporality as one forward-looking people.
In a bold revision of this narrative, Archives of American Time examines American literature's figures and forms to disclose the competing temporalities that in fact defined the antebellum period. Through discussions that link literature's essential qualities to social theories of modernity, Lloyd Pratt asserts that the competition between these varied temporalities forestalled the consolidation of national and racial identity. Paying close attention to the relationship between literary genre and theories of nationalism, race, and regionalism, Archives of American Time shows how the fine details of literary genres tell against the notion that they helped to create national, racial, or regional communities. Its chapters focus on images of invasive forms of print culture, the American historical romance, African American life writing, and Southwestern humor. Each in turn revises our sense of how these images and genres work in such a way as to reconnect them to a broad literary and social history of modernity. At precisely the moment when American authors began self-consciously to quest after a future in which national and racial identity would reign triumphant over all, their writing turned out to restructure time in a way that began foreclosing on that particular future.
Introduction: Written to the Future
Chapter 1. Figures of Print, Orders of Time, and the Character of American Modernity
Chapter 2. "A Magnificent Fragment": Dialects of Time and the American Historical Romance
Chapter 3. Local Time: Southwestern Humor and Nineteenth-Century Literary Regionalism
Chapter 4. The Deprivation of Time in African American Life Writing
Epilogue: The Spatial Turn and the Scale of Freedom
"Pratt seeks to reanimate time as plural, fragmented, and rich with multiple narrative possibilities, which the notion of a singular, national time forecloses. This is an ambitious goal, and Pratt does a persuasive job of reorienting the reader's sightlines; his research is impeccable-all in all a fine book."—American Literature
"Lloyd Pratt's Archives of American Time is an ambitious, erudite, and important book that . . . astutely engages with central problems in the history of modernity and nineteenth-century American print culture."—Novel
"A highly readable, accessible study of the way in which certain literary genres incorporated conceptions of time into forms of language. . . . [Archives of American Time] illuminates the way in which the concept of nation serves as a crucial term in the vexed relation between time and modernity."—Nineteenth-Century Literature
"Archives of American Time examines the pluralization of temporalities in a series of chapters each of which contributes to the study of a distinct literary genre: the historical romance, Southwestern humor, and African-American life writing. . . . Scrupulously examining Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables, Catharine Maria Sedgwick's Hope Leslie, and Joseph C. Hart's Miriam Coffin, he teases out how the eruption of premodern temporalities, especially the 'persistence of the past in the present,' disturbs those texts' narratives of linear progression and encourages forms of affiliation that cut across those favored by the centripetal forces of nationalism."—American Literary History
"Archives of American Time does something only a few special books have been able to do quite so well in recent years: it makes nineteenth-century American literature relevant to some of the most important arguments being made right now by scholars in other areas-arguments about temporality and spatial scale, print, postcoloniality, and global literary culture."—Trish Loughran, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign