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The Culture Concept

Writing and Difference in the Age of Realism

2002
Author:

Michael A. Elliott

The Culture Concept

Examines the prehistory of the American struggle to address cultural difference.

“Culture” is a term we commonly use to explain the differences in our ways of living. In this book Michael A. Elliott returns to the moment this usage was first articulated, tracing the concept of culture to the writings-folktales, dialect literature, local color sketches, and ethnographies-that provided its intellectual underpinnings in turn-of-the-century America.

Critical American Studies Series

Michael Elliott's book is elegantly written, its argument compellingly framed. His readings of texts and his larger subject are deft, nuanced, and incisive.

Dana Nelson, author of National Manhood

"Culture" is a term we commonly use to explain the differences in our ways of living. In this book Michael A. Elliott returns to the moment this usage was first articulated, tracing the concept of culture to the writings-folktales, dialect literature, local color sketches, and ethnographies-that provided its intellectual underpinnings in turn-of-the-century America.

The Culture Concept explains how this now-familiar definition of "culture" emerged during the late nineteenth century through the intersection of two separate endeavors that shared a commitment to recording group-based difference-American literary realism and scientific ethnography. Elliott looks at early works of cultural studies as diverse as the conjure tales of Charles Chesnutt, the Ghost Dance ethnography of James Mooney, and the prose narrative of the Omaha anthropologist-turned-author Francis La Flesche. His reading of these works-which struggle to find appropriate theoretical and textual tools for articulating a less chauvinistic understanding of human difference-is at once a recovery of a lost connection between American literary realism and ethnography and a productive inquiry into the usefulness of the culture concept as a critical tool in our time and times to come.


The Culture Concept

Michael A. Elliott is assistant professor of English at Emory University.

The Culture Concept

Michael Elliott's book is elegantly written, its argument compellingly framed. His readings of texts and his larger subject are deft, nuanced, and incisive.

Dana Nelson, author of National Manhood

Offers interesting innovations in the tradition of realism studies.

American Literature

Elliot recaptures the lost connection between American literary realism and ethnography in the early twentieth century.

American Literary Realism

The Culture Concept

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction:American Word Culture

1. Culture,Race,and Narrative: Reading Franz Boas
2. American Literary Realism and the Documentation of Difference
3. Between Race and Culture: Paul Laurence Dunbar and Charles W.Chesnutt
4. Searching for the “Real”Indian: Ethnographic Realism and James Mooney’s Ghost-Dance Religion
5. Culture and the Making of Native American Literature
6. Beyond Boas: The Realism of Zora Neale Hurston

Notes
Works Cited

Index