The West and the Word: Imagining, Formatting, and Ordering the American West in Nineteenth-Century Cultural Discourse

Steffen Wöll (SFB 1199)

Publication Date

October 2020


Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg






Dialectics of the Global



Additional Information


Western expansion in North America has mainly been described as either a linear sequence energized by nineteenth-century nation-building processes at a moving frontier, or as the practice of settler colonialism and its exploitation of resources and displacement of nonwhite peoples. This book suggests that shifting the focus from this binary pattern towards spatial imaginations and spatialization processes—a new theoretical framework developed at SFB 1199—provides novel insights into the placemaking dynamics of the American West. It brings to light a discursive diversity that often contradicts unidirectional interpretive patterns. It becomes clear that while some discourses solidified into spatial metanarratives like the character-shaping clash of civilizations at the frontier or manifest destiny, alternative spatial imaginations exist juxtaposed to or obfuscated by canonical interpretations. Making use of a variety of sources (including works of literature, poetry, newspapers, paintings, and speeches) to access spatialization processes on several sociocultural scales, the book presents a careful exploration of the parameters that inform(ed) the creation, affirmation, and subversion of spatial imagination of the American West throughout the nineteenth century from the perspective of American Studies.

Biographical Note

Dr. Steffen Wöll (SFB 1199)

Employed at SFB 1199 since October 2016, I’ve contributed my American Studies background to a sub project, finishing with a dissertation titled “The West and the Word: Imagining, Formatting, and Ordering the American West in Nineteenth-Century Cultural Discourse.” Starting in 2020, I’m employed as a postdoctoral researcher in the follow-up project that involves the study of US transoceanic expansion between 1880-1940 and its representation and construction in literature and other cultural texts. These studies bring to the fore discursive dynamics and intersections between spatial imaginations of the transpacific and circum-caribbean spaces, as well as their connections at geo-strategic junctions such as the Panama Canal. Next to the analysis of spatial imaginations, formats, and orders, I’m interested in representations of agency, race, and otherness in US literature and culture. Articles about these and other subjects have appeared in several journals and volumes.