Abstract: “From the Classroom to the Movement: Schoolgirl Narratives and Cultural Citizenship in American Literature” examines the relationship between girlhood narratives and discourses of cultural citizenship in American literature and human rights rhetoric. This dissertation analyzes the use of girls as symbols of national values in political rhetoric, as well as the relationship between girls as consumers of culture, and the ways in which girls conceive of their own citizenship and their place in American public life through specific political activities such as labor reform and the Civil Rights Movement. These relationships are demonstrated through life-writing such as autobiography and diaries, novels, educational materials, and other documents, which are analyzed using critical theory on gender, citizenship, and sentimentality. The first two chapters consider how girls position themselves as citizens and as members of specific communities in memoirs from immigrants at the turn of the twentieth-century and African American girls involved in the Civil Rights Movement. These chapters take up issues of gender and citizenship, as well as girls’ control over narratives about their own lives, and how they respond to popular discourses of citizenship contemporary to their writing. The later chapters focus on these issues in transnational contexts, and consider the connections between citizenship, human rights, and cultural ideas about gender and childhood, as well as histories of oppression, empire, and neoliberal and capitalist means of circulating resources and “awareness.” The third chapter analyzes the construction of girlhood and citizenship on the border between the United States and Mexico, as well as issues around the dramatization of traumatic violence, through examining media accounts, novels, poetry, and testimonios about the feminicide in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The final chapter critiques the construction of girlhood and discourses of compassion used in campaigns supporting girls’ education in the Global South. Through analyzing the United Nations’ Girl Up Campaign, the autobiographies of Malala Yousafzai, and the documentary Girl Rising, following Wendy Hesford and Sara Projansky, the chapter argues for organizations to evolve from a bias for the West and from framing girls as at-risk or can-do, moving beyond a politics of pity toward creating spaces for girls to exercise narrative agency, advocating for themselves.
The Modern Girl: