Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (vii, 258 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Branka Arsic

Committee Members

David Wills, Don Byrd, Wyn Kelley


Edwards, Emerson, Literature, Melville, Science, Thoreau, Mind and body, Natural history, Philosophy, American

Subject Categories

American Literature | Philosophy | Philosophy of Science


This project examines how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American writers drew on European natural science and philosophy - specifically in terms of concepts of form, perception, and experience - to open new possibilities for thinking the relationship between the mind and the physical world. In each of the moments of American intellectual history here considered - the natural theology of Calvinism, the idealistic natural history of Transcendentalism, and the movement towards an evolutionary process-philosophy of Pragmatism - "place" becomes not only geographical location, but a dynamic field of interactions of natural historical, literary, theological, and philosophical knowledge. I trace this through the writing of four exemplary figures: Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Herman Melville, each of whom situates his writing within the expanding spaces of American physical, mental and spiritual terrain, and each of whom comes to both extend and challenge the theoretical assumptions and empirical bases of European thought. If science provides them with more intimate knowledge of the constitution of the world, these writers at once realize that the force of life challenges accepted scientific knowledge and its means of classifying nature or defining the human.