Waterworks: Settler Industrialization and Literary Experimentation in Twentieth-Century North America
North American Literature
This dissertation examines the cultural imagination of North American bodies of water including the Owens River, the Florida Everglades, Lake Superior, and the Colorado River. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, infrastructure such as canals, aqueducts, dredges, and dams transformed the continent. This project tracks settlers’ shifting understandings of water— from something to defend against to something to defeat with industrialization—through and alongside literary representations of transforming waterscapes. I use the term “waterworks” to describe the experimental novels, stories, and poems that result from empirical engagements with industrialized water bodies. Through case studies of Mary Austin, Zora Neale Hurston, Lorine Niedecker, C. S. Giscombe, and Natalie Diaz, I argue that writers’ encounters with industrialized watersheds have led to new modes of methodological and textual experimentation that stretch the boundaries of empiricism. In so doing, these waterworks contend with the harm created by settler industrialization while also retheorizing human–water relations.