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Never One Nation

Freaks, Savages, and Whiteness in U.S. Popular Culture, 1850-1877

2005
Author:

Linda Frost

Never One Nation

Reviewing popular culture from newspaper headlines to sideshows, how American identity was forged through exclusion and stigmatization

Linda Frost argues that during the decades surrounding the Civil War, American identity was constructed not only nationally but also locally. Depictions of race, class, and sexuality seen in P. T. Barnum's museums, in the image of the Circassian Beauty, and in popular periodicals like Harper's Weekly and the San Francisco Golden Era further illustrated who was—and who was not—an American.

Lively and wide-ranging study of racial caricature in nineteenth-century U.S. popular culture.

Journal of American History

In Never One Nation, Linda Frost argues that during the eventful decades surrounding the Civil War, American identity was constructed not only nationally but also locally. Depictions of race, class, and sexuality seen in P. T. Barnum’s museums, in the image of the Circassian Beauty, and in popular periodicals like Harper’s Weekly, the Southern Illustrated News, and the San Francisco Golden Era further illustrated who was—and who was not—an American.

Local coverage of Native Americans and Chinese in the West, African Americans and recent Irish immigrants in New York, and slaves and Yankees in the South played a major role in conflating Americanness with whiteness. These ideas were shaped by reactions to events such as the 1863 Draft Riots and the Dakota uprising in Minnesota in 1862, and were laid bare through the demonization of Northern whites in Confederate newspapers and anxieties expressed in California newspapers about the possibility of Chinese immigrants gaining U.S. citizenship.

Through close readings of specific articles published in regional periodicals, mostly unexamined by literary scholars, Frost shows how Americanness came to be defined in the mid-nineteenth century by the mainstream popular culture. The era’s many social upheavals—Emancipation, Reconstruction, the start of the Indian wars in the West, immigration, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad—sharpened the desire of Americans to feel part of a national community, even as they made this search for an American identity extremely contentious and necessarily fragmented.

Never One Nation provocatively reframes the discourse on racial formation and reveals how local cultures and prejudices can recast the identity of a nation.

Never One Nation

Linda Frost is associate professor of English at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Never One Nation

Lively and wide-ranging study of racial caricature in nineteenth-century U.S. popular culture.

Journal of American History

The book is stunning.

Journal of Southern History

Never One Nation constitutes an important step toward a more contextualized examination of the relationship between race and nation.

Western Historical Quarterly

A bold attempt to weave together a web of historical developments, it provocatively illustrates the challenges of nation building.

Journal of Popular Culture

I am impressed with the ambitious reach of Frost’s book. Her examination of popular explorations of race and gender as they express regional dynamics challenges each of us to consider how local interests, on the part of both readers and publishers, intersect with or work against larger, national and global investments.

American Periodicals

This book explores the central role that race has played in the construction of an American sense of identity. A captivating contribution to studies of race and ethnicity in the U.S. Highly Recommended.

Choice

An endlessly fascinating book, noteworthy for its solid research and sophisticated reading of culture and history. Makes sense of popular discourses pivoting around questions of being and belonging in America during the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Never One Nation is an important work that should be read by students and scholars in history, literature, and ethnic studies.

Material Culture

Never One Nation is impressive for its focus on communities outside of New England and the Mid-Atlantic, its illustration of the dialogue between regional and national concerns, its use of lesser-known source material, and its sensitive mix of visual and literary texts.

Journal of American Ethnic History

[Frost’s] impeccable drawing together of a mass of primary material from a wide range of sources transforms these frameworks into a honed and necessarily mobile methodology for her analyses. Her multifaceted portrayal of the nation’s culture(s) is the true strength of the work.

Canadian Review of American Studies

Never One Nation

Contents

Introduction: Blinding Whiteness and “The Wonder of America”

ONE Roving Savages,Regionalized Americanness, and the 1862 Dakota Wars
TWO Emancipation Anxiety and the New York City Draft Riots
THREE The White Gaze,the Spectacle of Slavery,and the Circassian Beauty
FOUR A Peculiar Identity in the Confederate Southern Illustrated News
FIVE The Yankee,the Stump,and the Creation of a Confederate Imaginary
SIX What the Railroad Brought: The “Heathen Chinee”and a Nation in the West
SEVEN The Woman Question,Coast to Coast Conclusion:Consumption,Community,and the Correspondence Column

Notes

Index