The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America
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Publisher: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press
Cloth/Hardcover Publication Date: 04/2017
Cloth ISBN: 9781469629568
DescriptionOver the course of the eighteenth century, Anglo-Americans purchased an unprecedented number and array of goods. The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America investigates these diverse artifacts—from portraits and city views to gravestones, dressing furniture, and prosthetic devices—to explore how elite American consumers assembled objects to form a new civil society on the margins of the British Empire. In this interdisciplinary transatlantic study, artifacts emerge as key players in the formation of Anglo-American communities and eventually of American citizenship. Deftly interweaving analysis of images with furniture, architecture, clothing, and literary works, Van Horn reconstructs the networks of goods that bound together consumers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
Moving beyond emulation and the desire for social status as the primary motivators for consumption, Van Horn shows that Anglo-Americans' material choices were intimately bound up with their efforts to distance themselves from Native Americans and African Americans. She also traces women's contested place in forging provincial culture. As encountered through a woman's application of makeup at her dressing table or an amputee's donning of a wooden leg after the Revolutionary War, material artifacts were far from passive markers of rank or political identification. They made Anglo-American society.
About The AuthorJennifer Van Horn is assistant professor of art history and history at the University of Delaware.
ReviewsImaginatively developed, extensively documented, and well written. Recommended.--Choice
Forms a powerful testament to the value of true interdisciplinarity in its ability to advance histories of portraiture, decorative arts, and print culture as well as civil society, political identity, and gender and sexuality.--The William and Mary Quarterly
Represents some of the best of material culture scholarship, blending new information and ideas that are stretched to thought-provoking but not always documentable observations.--Panorama: Journal of the AHAA
This is an exceptional example of the recent turn in material culture studies toward object assemblages.--The Journal of Southern History
Van Horn's work reveals how objects and people were integral to the networks that defined new individual and group identities within an emerging social order.--The Journal of Southern History
Provides a convincing argument for the centrality of material culture studies to the ever-evolving American historical imagination. . . . Van Horn offers deft integration of material, visual, textual, emotional, and embodied evidence.--Winterthur Portfolio
An important contribution to understanding how elite identity was produced during a critical period in American history.--Journal of American History
In her insightful analysis of prints of port municipalities, portraits of men and women of status, tombstones, and ornate furniture, Jennifer Van Horn's study of British America reveals . . . [a] compelling story. . . . [of] a consumer revolution [that] greatly influenced the American Revolution.--Eighteenth-Century Studies
The best book I've read in years in any field of early American studies; I cannot imagine a more thorough, innovative, and riveting account of the challenge of crafting civility in this period. Van Horn dexterously combines art history and material culture studies, showing a keen sensitivity to the way American civility was tenuously defined both by aesthetic models in the high-style metropole and by more proximate examples of Native and African American material culture. The writing is elegant and lucid and crackles with saucy humor.--Jennifer L. Roberts, Harvard University
In the surprising and welcome florescence of new books on eighteenth-century American art and material culture, Van Horn's stands out as one of the most meticulously researched and engagingly written. Reading text against object and object against text, she draws us into a richly variegated world of human actors, motivations, and divergent worldviews and convincingly extrapolates behavior and belief from an unlikely series of assemblages.--Margaretta M. Lovell, University of California, Berkeley