C19 2018 -- Moving to Better Climates

deadline for submissions: 
August 25, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists

Moving to Better Climates



The belief that people can “move someplace better” to improve their situation is deeply entrenched in American culture. Popular views of the United States as a “land of opportunity,” rags-to-riches tales of rural dreamers “making it big” in the city, idealists supposedly finding fulfillment in nature, and similar cultural narratives encourage(d) the belief that a change of place or climate can benefit one’s prospects or social position. Besides creating hope for brighter futures, however, faith in “improvement moves” can also result in restless dissatisfaction and a chronic, compulsive desire for ever-better circumstances—a condition that, Alexis de Tocqueville warned, often causes misery amidst prosperity. More tragically, this mentality can lead to nefarious, paternalistic relocation initiatives whereby marginalized groups are transferred “elsewhere,” allegedly “for their own good.” Nineteenth-century American life and literature teems with examples of these outcomes; their legacies remain today.


We seek participants whose work explores connections between geographic relocation (forced or voluntary) and the desire for improved circumstances (physical, social, economic, etc.) in 19th-century American writings. What sorts of possibilities do “improvement moves” open or foreclose during this period and for whom? What happens when groups’ or individuals’ journeys to secure better lives conflict with others’/others? How can issues of race, gender, class, sexuality, or other power dynamics be understood in terms of mobility or lack thereof? What legacies have 19th-century “improvement moves” left? Abstracts of 250 words and a short CV or bio to heather.chacon@greensboro.edu and collinsfrohlichjr@cofc.edu by 8/25.