Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (iv, 227 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Branka Arsić

Committee Members

David Wills, James Lilley, Eduardo Cadava


ethics, nineteenth-century, politics, silence, testimony, witness, Silence in literature

Subject Categories

American Literature


This project proposes that Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville and Henry James invoke silence in order to make evident, if not audible, the oppression of slaves and the absence of the dead. Challenging the opposition between advocacy and quietism that has largely structured scholarship on nineteenth-century American literature, I argue that these writers produce testimony by engaging voicelessness in their texts. In effect, their work revises the idea that testimony consists in a first-person report of past events. Quiet Testimony consequently suggests that, in signal American texts, political claims may not be explicitly argumentative, a testifying subject bears a broken relationship to his past self, history stands to be accurately read in the archive's silences, and figurative language conveys truth even in the context of fiction. These radical implications develop through the pursuit of the particular philosophical, legal, and literary thinking that traverses American writing in the 1800s. The study thus works to offer a broadly informative and transdisciplinary theory of testimony that unmistakably emerges from the specific conditions in which the nation's first canonical writers composed.