Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 12-18-2020


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Linda A. Kinnahan

Committee Member

Faith Barrett

Committee Member

Thomas P. Kinnahan


geocriticism, railroad, Pittsburgh, train, whistle stop tour, spatiality, noir, observation car, American West, deep map


This dissertation uses geocriticism to argue that the American railroad is best understood as a set of discursively constructed railspaces formed through a variety of viewpoints, a polysensorial awareness of space, and stratified social relationships and power struggles. This study takes up four railspaces, the constituent texts of which demonstrate how intertextual discourse shapes and is shaped by the railroad. The observation car, charted through California Zephyr advertisements and Muriel Rukeyser’s “Campaign,” is an apparatus that produces perpetual spectacle. Three novels—Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, Double Indemnity by James M. Cain, and Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith—and their filmic adaptations work together to form the passenger car as a contested railspace of fear and unease. The mobile Hell on Wheels that stations itself at the terminus of construction in the American West along the transcontinental railroad becomes a profanatory and deterritorializing railspace through Zane Grey’s The U.P. Trail. The photography of Andrew J. Russell and the poetry of C.S. Giscombe in Ohio Railroads and Prairie Style develop a deep map of the railroad right-of-way in the style of William Least Heat-Moon’s PraryErth: A Deep Map. This map uncovers marginalized racial memory and locality along the tracks. This project concludes with an echo of the introduction, geocritically exploring Penn Station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and how to move toward a geopraxis of public humanities work.