Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in English



First Advisor

Leigh Anne Duck

Second Advisor

Annette Trefzer

Third Advisor

Deborah Barker

Relational Format



“Unearthing the Old South/West” examines four works of modernist historical fiction which accentuate competing regimes of racial capitalism through South/Western border settings. Following the trend in New Southern and Western Studies to break with exceptionalist and essentialist considerations of these regions, my analysis challenges white-centric narratives of the U.S. South and West and questions their popular portrayals as culturally distinct spaces. Viewing the U.S. as a site of ongoing settler colonialism, imperialist conquest, and international trade reliant upon labor exploitation, I develop the idea that South/Western borders form a microcosm for larger structures of systemic oppression throughout the nation by crystalizing how the histories and ongoing consequences of slavery and frontier colonialism overlap. Modernist fiction depicting the historical development of these regions elucidates how hegemonies of racial capitalism affect the material conditions of those who must survive within them. From this perspective, I assert these modernist texts depict “borderspaces”: by emphasizing the unhealed wounds of racial capitalism through highly conspicuous iterations of its ongoing processes in spaces where different and multiple applications of systemic oppression meet, they reveal the enduring and widespread history of synthesized labor exploitation and racist hegemony. This dissertation reads works by Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, John Joseph Mathews and Américo Paredes as borderspace modernist texts which experiment with form, genre, and narrative to expand our understanding of trends in labor movements and class consciousness that proliferated around the 1930s. By unearthing less frequently told narratives of people of color and exploited laborers, these texts expand the capacity of modernist literature to consider how histories of racial capitalism shape our present and future.

Available for download on Thursday, August 15, 2024