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Katy L. Chiles
University of Tennessee, Knoxville (Knoxville, TN 37916-3801)

Summer Stipends
Research Programs

[Grant products][Media coverage]

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2010 – 9/30/2010

Transformable Race and the Literatures of Early America

This book seeks to understand how the eighteenth-century scientific idea that race was transformable influenced early American literature. As fantastical as it seems today, many Americans during the 1700s believed that race was an external bodily condition that was produced incrementally and could change over time. Focusing on writers such as Benjamin Franklin, Phillis Wheatley, and J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, my project explores how authors used figurative language emphasizing or questioning the potential malleability of physical features to describe a person's race. This study examines how writers drew upon these ideas about race so that we can better understand how science and literature interact in the construction of racial categories. Transformable Race and the Literatures of Early America will tell the story of how early American authors imagined, contributed to, and challenged the ways that one's racial identity could be formed in the time of the nation's founding.