Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Committee Member(s)

Danielle C. Skeehan


Gothic, American Gothic, Empire, Imperialism, Epidemiology, Medical humanities, Disease, Race, Colonialism, Capitalism, Literature, American literature, Severance, The Andromeda Strain, The Martian Chronicles, Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Iola Leroy, Reburn, Arthur Mervyn


This thesis examines the intersections among gothic literature, empire, and contagion, and traces the emergence and evolution of a yet unexplored subgenre: the Imperial Gothic. Where early American Gothic narratives express anxieties about national stability and the republican subject, the Imperial Gothic explores anxieties that emerge when imperialism brings white Americans into contact with foreign commodities, environments, and bodies, ranging from foreign nationals, immigrants, and enslaved peoples, to Martians. It demonstrates how viral threats to the body correspond to the nationalist conception of foreign threats against the imagined white body politic. What emerges from this body of global and interplanetary literature is an “epidemiology of American imperialism.” While dark passageways, imprisoned heroines, and duplicitous patriarchal villains are staples of the classic Gothic genre, several additional tropes recur in the Imperial Gothic: trade and capitalism gone wrong, uncertain, or blurred identities, unknown deadly illnesses that spread through spatial contact zones, and the failure of both biological and national defense mechanisms. I explore these tropes through seven primary sources with publication dates ranging from 1799 to 2018. These works include: Charles Brockden Brown’s Arthur Mervyn (1799), Herman Melville’s Redburn (1849), Frances Harper’s Iola Leroy (1892), Katherine Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1950), Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain (1969), and Ling Ma’s Severance (2018).