Title page for ETD etd-03272006-103957

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Sartwell, Elissa
URN etd-03272006-103957
Title The Other Side of the Tracks: Railroads, Race, and the Performance of Unity in Nineteenth-Century American Entertainment
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Theatre
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh Committee Co-Chair
Leslie A Wade Committee Co-Chair
John R. May Committee Member
Kristin M. Sosnowsky Committee Member
Leigh Ann Clemons Committee Member
Thomas J. Durant Dean's Representative
  • performance of history
  • anti-Chinese movement
  • frontier drama
Date of Defense 2006-03-10
Availability unrestricted
Nineteenth-century Americans took great pride in the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. This pride was not solely grounded in the knowledge that a grand, technological feat had been accomplished. When placed in its historical context, the celebration surrounding the completion of the railroad suggests a clear and visible statement of unity following a bitter and divisive civil war. The transcontinental railroad of 1869 undeniably unified the States. But any railroad simultaneously unites and divides, for while the tracks serve to link distant locations, they also produce a literal and metaphorical division in the communities through which they travel: “the other side of the tracks.”

This study examines the intersection of performance, history, and politics in the historical glorification of the railroad and the simultaneous erasure and degradation of the men who built it. Specifically, this dissertation examines dozens of nineteenth-century plays, songs, and cartoons, exploring the power of performance in cementing a history of the railroad and the complicity of performance in a political movement that aimed to devalue the contribution of Irish, Mormon, and Black laborers and to expel the Chinese from the United States. This study ultimately engages the larger question of how performance can be used to shape collective memory, history, and a national definition of what it means to be a part of the “United” States of America.

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