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Title page for ETD etd-05262006-093521

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Passino, Sarah McAuley
Author's Email Address sarah.m.passino@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-05262006-093521
Title Reading L'Enfant's Stars: An Antifederalist Critique of Washington D.C.
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Dana Nelson Committee Chair
Lynn Enterline Committee Co-Chair
  • capital
  • Washington D.C.
  • urban design
Date of Defense 2006-08-01
Availability unrestricted
In 1790, a year after the Constitution of the United States was ratified, Congress passed an act to establish a federal city: Washington D.C. The principal actors in the early designs of the capital, George Washington and Pierre Charles L’Enfant, understood the dialectic between the physical space and its inhabitants within a larger political framework and sought to use this aesthetic project of urban design to reinforce the political narrative of the federalists. But read through Ed White’s theoretical paradigm of the early American ‘federalist synthesizers’, and the subsequent trans-temporal re-inscription of this federalist synthesis by what he terms the ‘megasynthesizers’, Washington D.C. becomes not the putative coalescence of the ideology of the federalists, but rather an imperialist attempt to materially and physically silence the traces of competing and contestatory voices of the early nation. Further, borrowing Ed White’s conception of an ‘antifederalist critique’, George Washington and L’Enfant’s plans to construct a physical iteration of a unified and imposing empire are seen to contain the seeds of its own subversion: L’Enfant’s carrefours—the star-shaped intersections of the federal city—transform from a top-down orchestration of human interaction to an emancipatory space that may be reclaimed as pedagogical tools for rediscovering a pre-national memory of a space that insists on heterogeneity, multiplicity, and contestation as democratic requirements. Only by recovering these silenced conflicts and spaces will we be able to resume a democratic dialogue and seek out the frontiers in our cities as sites for civic participation.
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