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Imagining Locality: Regionalization in U.S. Literature and Culture before the Civil War (essay collection; 5/1/11)
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In the wake of the "the planetary turn" in literary and cultural studies, scholars have devoted increasing attention to issues of space and place. The growing influence of transnational paradigms of study—including Atlantic, hemispheric, and global studies—have challenged us to re-examine the way social and political spaces are produced, maintained, and transformed. In the midst of this critical re-assessment, the status of the “region” requires particular attention. What happens to the concept of regionalism as we continue to call the definitions and intersections of local, national, and border spaces into question? What are regions and how might we define them? What role has the discourse of regionalism played in U.S. literary history and culture? And how might we begin to develop new models for theorizing regionalism within the field of American studies? Can we think about locality in less static terms, as an ongoing process of regionalization?
In re-theorizing the concept of regionalism, this collection also seeks to unsettle, counteract, and expand the temporal boundaries in which regionalism is usually studied. The idea of the region has long held an important place in early U.S. literary and cultural studies, but the term regionalism is often reserved for describing a particular genre of late-nineteenth-century writing. This narrow definition of regionalism, however, risks limiting our understanding of the historical, cultural, and theoretical scope of regional writing and representation. While the discussions of antebellum regionalism have become an increasingly visible and vocal topic at conferences and in recent publications, there have been few forums for bringing these ideas and arguments together to assess to directions in the field of regional studies. We are thus interested in essays that could help us take stock of how contemporary scholars are reconsidering and transforming the concept of the region in the context of early U.S. literature and culture from the late eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries, with the goal of exploring, not simply where current arguments converge, but also how they may contest and counteract one another.
We seek essays that employ a range of theoretical and historical paradigms to re-think the spatial, temporal, and critical approaches to regionalism. We hope accordingly to produce a collection that re-imagines regionalism, not simply as a study of a particular genre or a representation of communities set in a specific time and place, but as a critical discourse in its own right—a discourse with a complex and dynamic critical history.