Date of Thesis

Spring 2024


This thesis examines themes of American national identity perpetuated in Pennsylvania surrounding private property through historical, literary and legal analysis. Ideals of private property and land ownership are broken into three transitions throughout Pennsylvania history: the American frontier and initial land claiming by settlers, mass-deforestation and the introduction of widespread agriculture, and finally industrialization and the introduction of mining and fracking. Each of these transitions highlights the physical changes to the region and how they were influenced by American ideals of private property, productivity, and profitability.

Throughout this thesis, I analyze both literary and legal texts to examine societal beliefs regarding property and land use. Chapter One, The Frontier: Early American Settlement and Law, analyzes James Fenimore Cooper’s fictional novel, The Deerslayer, as an account of early frontier settlement and mindset. Cooper’s depictions of historical and regional European-settler mindset is coupled with analysis of the work of influential frontier political actors, such as Benjamin Franklin. Additionally, early American property rights are analyzed through landmark court decisions, such as Johnson v. McIntosh.

Chapter Two, The Transition from Frontier to Settlement: Deforestation and Agriculture, examines Conrad Richter’s fictional novel, The Fields, as an account of shifting American mindset from lawless frontier to established settlement. Richter’s text works hand-in-hand with further analysis of land distribution practices in Pennsylvania, such as Ch. 1259 of the PA Statutes at Large. Widespread logging and agriculture are also examined through every-developing ideals of American private property as a means of pushing production.

Finally, Chapter Three, The Complexities of Extractivism and Subsurface Property Rights: Mining and Fracking, delves into the complications of property rights as technology is used as a tool to further land productivity, exploitation, and extractivism. In this chapter, I analyze Mitch Troutman’s non-fiction book, The Bootleg Coal Rebellion: The Pennsylvania Miners who Seized and Industry 1925-1942, alongside Pennsylvania mineral law, such as the Mining Law of 1872 and the Rule of Capture. I then shift to the state’s booming fracking industry, examining Julia Spicher Kasdorf’s book of poems, Shale Play, alongside Pennsylvania fracking cases, such as Robinson Township (and Delaware RiverKeeper) V. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

This thesis argues that ideals of individualism, production and profit are consistent themes that have shaped American national identity and have had irreversible consequences on Pennsylvania. The literary analysis of the different texts both compare and contrast with the legal narratives presented, which continually push extraction and production. Though my thesis highlights how property rights have changed overtime, such as with the introduction of mineral vs. estate rights, I argue that property rights continue to perpetuate their intended purpose: individual profit and land use.


Law, Literature, Pennsylvania, Environmental Law, Property Law, English

Access Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts


English- Literary Studies

Second Major

Environmental Studies

Minor, Emphasis, or Concentration

French & Francophone Studies

First Advisor

Ted Hamilton

Second Advisor

Amanda Wooden