This talk is part of the English Graduate Fellows Lecture Series.
“Eugenic Sustainability” features key readings from Abby’s dissertation, “Democratic Demographics: A Literary Genealogy of American Sustainability.” This project argues that sustainability, widely regarded as a contemporary concept, emerged from a “New World” fantasy of demographic and agricultural abundance. Developing this fantasy as a racial and eugenic ideal, U.S. writers defined sustainability as the capacity to feed and breed a racially homogeneous, American farming population. Ranging from 1773 to 1920, “Democratic Demographics” charts this overlooked notion of sustainability across familial romances, gothic novels, black nationalist tracts, global poetry, and feminist utopias. These texts depict racial improvement and eugenic breeding as the solution to population crises and the path to agricultural plenty. From Herman Melville’s ghost-written agricultural report to Walt Whitman’s poems of crop renewal, “Democratic Demographics” identifies an early, racial notion of sustainability that persists from Thomas Jefferson’s agrarianism to Theodore Roosevelt’s conservationism, exposing the American literary roots of global population discourses.
To learn more about Abby’s work, check out her personal webpage.