Fossils, Literature, and the Origins of Race in the Americas: Museum Writing and the Poetics of Display
Varela Mereles, Fernando
This dissertation examines the presence of fossils in nineteenth-century literature of the Americas. It argues that human and nonhuman ancient bones are more accurately understood if analyzed at the intersection of museum, literary, and critical race studies. To do so, it focuses on literary works from Argentinian essayist and statesman Domingo F. Sarmiento, Brazilian poet and romanticist Antônio Gonçalves Dias, and Cuban novelist Francisco Calcagno, each of whom performed what this project calls museum writing. Museum writing is defined here as a poetics of display where fossils ekphrastically appear as specimens that support but also outwit these authors’ theories of racial origins, generating alternate ways of conceiving the history of humans and nonhumans. It thus reflects on a certain intimacy of trust and value in consumers of natural history. More broadly, it presents a pressing need to evaluate the ethics and aesthetics of newly discovered origins, unexpected genetic kinships, and prehistorical migration routes exhibited in natural history museums.