“Aguirre’s analysis sheds light on an archive that has been largely neglected by literary historians but speaks meaningfully to the work of scholars in the fields of nineteenth-century trans-Atlanticism, empire, and globalization.” —Rebecca Cole Heinowitz, author of Spanish America and British Romanticism, 1777–1826
“What place did Panama hold in the Anglo-American imagination in the run up to the opening of the canal? This book answers that question. In doing so it also—wonderfully—overthrows the question. We have before us here both an exciting study of Panama and of the modern Western invention of an archetypal global ‘no-place’ primarily understood as a transit between.” —Jonathan Grossman, author of Charles Dickens’s Networks: Public Transport and the Novel
Mobility and Modernity: Panama in the Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Imagination rewrites the history of the Panama Canal, assessing for the first time the literary culture of the preceding decades. In this period, U.S. and British writers and visual artists developed sophisticated languages of mobility, time, and speed to cast the isthmus as an in-between place, a point of connection to more important destinations. These discourses served an important role in their own day and laid the imaginative ground for the canal to come.
In this study, Robert D. Aguirre provides bold new interpretations of Anthony Trollope, John Lloyd Stephens, and Eadweard Muybridge and also recovers information about literary communities previously lost to history. Mobility and Modernity shows how Panama became defined as a site of incipient globalization and a crucial link of empire. Across this narrow strip of land people and things traveled, technology developed, and political forces erupted. The isthmus became a site of mobility that paradoxically produced varieties of immobility. Parting ways with histories that celebrate the canal as a mighty engineering feat, Mobility and Modernity reveals a more complex story of cultural conflict that began with the first gold rush news in the late 1840s and continued throughout the century.
Robert D. Aguirre is Associate Professor of English at Wayne State University and author of Informal Empire: Mexico and Central American in Victorian Culture.
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