Acts of Naturalization: Immigration and the Early Novel


My project argues that the study of 18th-century literature can help us reimagine legal theories of citizenship and naturalization (the rite of initiation by which outsiders are permitted the rights and privileges of national life). By returning to the period that saw some of the earliest claims to humanitarian recognition by states—the word refugee first appeared in English in 1685, the outset of the period I discuss—I show how 18th-century legal and prose fiction engaged a controversy about naturalization as a subject for aesthetic investigation and as a frame for literature itself.

There are several original manuscripts that I am eager to consult in Harvard’s libraries: for example, John Locke’s 1693 draft of an essay on general naturalization, early American naturalization forms, and papers related to the Alien and Sedition Acts. I seek a student who would be interested in helping research and track down original documents related to the topic of naturalization, and immigration more generally, in the American colonies. Some of these documents I know about, but because there has been so little study on naturalization in the 18th century, some of this work will involve following hunches in the archives, asking questions of curators, and keeping track of relevant passages.

Having an extra pair of hands while sifting through documents would be important, but I would also like a collaborator, someone with whom I can discuss the findings and someone with whom I can begin to organize documents.

The student will experience conducting original research on a legal and historical topic that is not easily characterizable. In trying to piece together what naturalization to and from the colonies looked like we will have to look at unusual documents—personal letters, trade laws, colonial immigration laws, naturalization papers, etc. The student would also voice their opinions and ideas, and hopefully have their opinions about immigration law and literature shaped along the way.