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Arielle Zibrak

2015 WIHR Research Projects

Writing Against Reform: Aesthetic Counter-Traditions in the Age of Progress

Funded projects, February 2015

Researcher: Arielle Zibrak

Department: English at UW-Casper

My book project, Writing Against Reform: Aesthetic Counter-Traditions in the Age of Progress, examines fiction in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that has historically been linked to reform efforts ranging from women’s rights to temperance to the race movement. Dislodging the critical myth that popular literature and political reform in this period were wholly coherent movements, I highlight seven writers who, while committed to social change, also wrote against reform texts and the long-term cultural damage reformers created by rhetorically marginalizing the groups they sought to advance. These writers saw the creation of fiction and other forms of creative expression as productive of more durable cultural effects than the faddish movements that sparked the popular imagination and created a highly marketable literary genre. Exposing their work as a counter-tradition changes the way we think not only of the literature they created but also of the cultural impact of reform rhetoric at large. Writing Against Reform situates creative works of literature in the social scientific discourse of broad societal change, illustrating how crucial the humanities are to any movement for sociopolitical progress. With support from WIHR, I’ll spend the summer conducting the archival research necessary to draft the final two chapters of my book at libraries at Harvard, Yale, and Pennsylvania State Universities. In particular, I’ll be looking at reform ephemera (pamphlets, posters, articles, and advertisements) and the papers of the writers Edith Wharton and James Weldon Johnson.

The Great Republican Reform Party

The Great Republican Reform Party

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