This introductory chapter begins with a reading of “The Right to Privacy,” an 1890 legal essay by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis in response to the perceived threats of gossip journalism and the degraded public culture it promoted. Considered the first attempt at codifying privacy as a U.S. legal category, the essay has since come to stand as a point of origin for the ambiguous and contested status of “privacy” in U.S. political culture. Here, it also introduces the figure of “imperiled privacy,” whose emergence subsequent chapters trace from the 1840s onward: an endangered space of individual and national wholeness, aligned with whiteness and femininity, and incessantly reproduced through panic narratives such as that devised by Warren and Brandeis. The chapter outlines the historical contexts of 19th-century privacy discourse, giving special emphasis to its formation with and against conceptions of property, its gendered and racialized logic, and its connections to an emerging life writing print culture.
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