Georgia imagined, Georgia illustrated
Lawton, Christopher Roland
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This dissertation is built around William and T. Addison Richards’s Georgia Illustrated (1842), the first travel book about the Deep South to be written and published within the region. To create a context for understanding the book and its authors, I begin by exploring how and what antebellum non-Southerners thought they knew about the state. The first two chapters trace the roots of their shared knowledge to 18th- and early-19th century travel texts in which Georgia was repeatedly documented as an idea rather than a reality. Through this process outside observers cast the state as a distant and dangerous Other in order to reify their own sense of self and home. I then use this construct to examine Georgia Illustrated through a post-colonial lens, as a case study of how one set of residents found a voice, imagined themselves as they wanted to be seen, and responded. The meaning of Georgia Illustrated is inextricably intertwined with the lives of its authors and their history in the now-forgotten college town of Penfield. To tell this story is to reconstruct the world of the bookstore their family operated there, the role of books in their lives, and their lives in what was, at the time, an aspirational cultural and intellectual center. Perhaps most importantly, it is also to reveal a fleeting moment of antebellum possibility. Georgia Illustrated not only promoted the state’s landscape as being as quintessentially American as Northeastern locales, but also dismissed regional stereotypes by proclaiming the existence of a vibrant Southern intelligentsia. Northern presses lavishly and widely praised the book at the time of its publication, and it launched the careers of its creators. Yet within a decade of its publication, the shifting political climate left no place for a book that denied the hallmarks of regional distinctiveness. The rise and fall of Georgia Illustrated mirrors the rise and fall of a certain strain of antebellum Southern intellectuals, filled with brilliant potential, yet ultimately suffocated by both the stereotypical imaginings of outsiders and the political posturing of their own neighbors.