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Literary representations of the American Western Steamboat c. 1811-1861

Barta, Petr (2009) Literary representations of the American Western Steamboat c. 1811-1861. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94198) (KAR id:94198)


This thesis explores a variety of literary representations of the American western steamboat during the period 1811-1861. Using works that span a range of literary genres, it analyses western steamboat culture from numerous different perspectives and at different historical moments. In doing so it sets out to locate that culture within the broader cultural history of nineteenth-century America and within representations of society on the westering frontier. As such, attention is directed at, not only the steamboat’s day-to-day operations, functions and social activities, but also at the cultural heritage of its dramatic, aesthetic and political deployment: for example, the steamboat as the epitome of the modem, industrial American nation. It begins with a consideration of the western steamboat as a technological object, the context of its design and construction, debates about steam-power, and of its impact on the Mississippi Valley. Secondly, through the recorded observations of travellers, primarily those of Francis Grund, Charles Dickens, Michael Chevalier, Frances Trollope and Harriet Martineau, this thesis examines the social and cultural practices of daily on board society - of public manners and social intercourse. Thirdly, using the narratives of Henry Bibb and William Wells Brown, it explores the role of the steamboat in the internal American slave trade, focusing specifically on the themes of transportation and flight. Fourthly, in a closereading of Herman Melville’s satirical novel, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, the Mississippi steamboat is shown to represent the stage of America’s shifting heterogeneous identity. Finally, in two related pieces devoted largely to the work Mark Twain, this thesis considers the form, status and diversity of his literary representations of the western steamboat. On the one hand, it presents a detailed portrait of the steamboat pilot, his skills and status, and the culture of the larger piloting community. On the other hand, it explores his desire to write the ‘standard work’ concerning life on the Mississippi and the place of the steamboat in that account.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94198
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: E History America
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2023 16:51 UTC
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2023 16:51 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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