Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, English and Literary Arts

First Advisor

Billy J. Stratton


Creative writing, American Midwest


This dissertation functions as a personal and creative documentation of local history in the American Midwest and explores personal ties to homeplace through the aesthetic lens of the Midwestern Gothic. Spotlighting rural Iowa, this work uncovers the historical realities of a place that remains largely absent from the historical record. Through the use of the documentary as a methodological approach, this dissertation represents a forgotten landscape and people, focusing on the lived experiences of the working class while implicitly critiquing prevailing cultural myths of the region as a pastoral refuge. In keeping, the Gothic elements of this text serve to reframe ideas of the Midwest as “home” and “Heartland” by painting a portrait of homeplace as haunted and abject. In doing so, this work demonstrates the so-called “return of the repressed” with respect to local and family history, metaphorically bringing the dead back to life and reanimating the past. This return of the repressed engenders a kind of internal stitching and healing which reveals itself on the page.

This dissertation’s critical apparatus studies the use of the archival image in Midwestern labor documentaries, demonstrating how these films both visually and metaphorically reframe place and labor history through the reframing of images. This work argues that the Midwestern labor documentary is an overlooked genre in film and cultural studies, and through examining films like Finally Got the News (1970), Union Maids (1976), With Babies and Banners (1979), Roger and Me (1989), and American Dream (1990) illuminates how the genre shifts the Midwestern landscape in the American imagination through the perspective of working class people. Ultimately, the critical apparatus shows how the Midwest’s constructed image in American culture is in disservice to the realities of working class life and draws attention to the ongoing need for working class representation.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. This work may only be accessed by members of the University of Denver community. The work is provided by permission of the author for individual research purposes only and may not be further copied or distributed. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Julia N. Madsen


Received from author

File Format




File Size

122 pgs


Creative writing