Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Marion Rust


American Mnemonic: Racial Identity in Women’s Life Writing of the Civil War takes up three American women's autobiographies: Emilie Davis’s pocket diaries (1863-65), Elizabeth Keckley’s Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four in the White House (1868), and Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches (1863). Chapter one is devoted to literary review and methodology. Chapter two, "the all-absorbing topic': Belonging and Isolation in Emilie Davis’s Diaries," explores the everyday record of Emilie Davis in the context of Philadelphia’s free black community during the war. Davis’s position as a working-class free woman offers a fresh perspective on the much-discussed “elite” black community in which she participated. Chapter three, “'The Past is Dear': Nostalgia and Geotemporal Distance in Elizabeth Keckley’s Behind the Scenes,” explores Keckley’s memories of the South as she narrates them from her position as an upwardly mobile free black woman in Washington, D.C. My analysis illuminates the effect of shifting subject positions (e.g., from slave to free) on the process of self-narration, a process that I argue ultimately recasts Keckley in a more abolitionist light. Finally, chapter four, “'A Forward Movement': Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches and the Racialized Temporality of Progress,” argues that Alcott uses the geotemporal conditions of the war hospital to gain social mobility. This forward movement for Alcott leads her to cast black characters in a regressive light, revealing the racial hierarchy of progress. All of these authors express their experiences of time in unique ways, but in each case, the temporal cultural shifts catalyzed by the Civil War impact how they process their racial identities, and the genre of autobiography offers an intimate view of that process.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)