Summer Reading – 18th and Early 19th Century America

This summer the Decorative Arts Trust chose The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America by Jennifer Van Horn for the 2019 summer reading selection. Dr. Van Horn is an assistant professor of art history and history at the University of Delaware, where she teaches courses on 18th- and 19th-century decorative arts, material culture theory and methodology, the production of historical memory, and archival practices. She is a graduate of the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in Early American Culture and the University of Virginia, and previously worked at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Her book discusses the connection between the full breadth of material culture and the development of 18th-century Anglo-American communities.

Van Horn explores the sheer quantity and variety of goods Anglo-Americans were purchasing in the 18th-century and the central importance of objects to the identity politics of their time. She analyzes material goods—from women’s dressing tables to gravestones to even a wooden prosthetic leg—to demonstrate the centrality of material culture in the construction of uniquely Anglo-American communities within the British Empire. Drawing a deeper connection between object and owner, Van Horn also builds on the traditional role of goods as a means to secure social status and power by demonstrating how these purchases also distanced elite Anglo-Americans from African Americans and Native Americans. (University of North Carolina Press, 2019)

Additional books to consider for your summer reading list:

  • Face Value: The Consumer Revolution and the Colonizing of America by Cary Carson (University of Virginia Press, 2017) discusses how the rise of gentry culture in the mid-18th century set the stage for a consumer revolution. During this time, Americans expanded their desire for a variety of luxury goods, abandoning the traditional sameness of material life. About mid-century, though, a lust for fancy goods, coupled with social aspiration, began to transform American society. Carson addresses the intriguing question of how Americans developed the reputation for avid consumption.
  • Independence Lost by Kathleen DuVal (Random House, 2016) offers a significant new global perspective on the Revolutionary War with the story of the conflict as seen through the eyes of the outsiders of colonial society. Duval delivers the history of the Revolutionary Era as experienced by slaves, American Indians, women, and British loyalists living on the Gulf Coast. DuVal teaches early American history and American Indian history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Jefferson’s Treasure: How Albert Gallatin Saved the New Nation from Debt by Gregory May (Regnery History, 2018) describes the significant contributions of Gallatin, a Swiss immigrant who served as Treasury secretary during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. Gallatin’s reforms to government policy set a new precedent for fiscal responsibility that lasted well into the 20th century. An internationally known tax expert with an interest in historic preservation, May’s unique background allowed him to craft a book exploring Gallatin’s lasting influence on American fiscal policy.

This summer the Decorative Arts Trust chose The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America by Jennifer Van Horn for the 2019 summer reading selection. Dr. Van Horn is an assistant professor of art history and history at the University of Delaware, where she teaches courses on 18th- and 19th-century decorative arts, material culture theory and methodology, the production of historical memory, and archival practices. She is a graduate of the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in Early American Culture and the University of Virginia, and previously worked at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Her book discusses the connection between the full breadth of material culture and the development of 18th-century Anglo-American communities.

Van Horn explores the sheer quantity and variety of goods Anglo-Americans were purchasing in the 18th-century and the central importance of objects to the identity politics of their time. She analyzes material goods—from women’s dressing tables to gravestones to even a wooden prosthetic leg—to demonstrate the centrality of material culture in the construction of uniquely Anglo-American communities within the British Empire. Drawing a deeper connection between object and owner, Van Horn also builds on the traditional role of goods as a means to secure social status and power by demonstrating how these purchases also distanced elite Anglo-Americans from African Americans and Native Americans. (University of North Carolina Press, 2019)

Additional books to consider for your summer reading list:

  • Face Value: The Consumer Revolution and the Colonizing of America by Cary Carson (University of Virginia Press, 2017) discusses how the rise of gentry culture in the mid-18th century set the stage for a consumer revolution. During this time, Americans expanded their desire for a variety of luxury goods, abandoning the traditional sameness of material life. About mid-century, though, a lust for fancy goods, coupled with social aspiration, began to transform American society. Carson addresses the intriguing question of how Americans developed the reputation for avid consumption.
  • Independence Lost by Kathleen DuVal (Random House, 2016) offers a significant new global perspective on the Revolutionary War with the story of the conflict as seen through the eyes of the outsiders of colonial society. Duval delivers the history of the Revolutionary Era as experienced by slaves, American Indians, women, and British loyalists living on the Gulf Coast. DuVal teaches early American history and American Indian history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Jefferson’s Treasure: How Albert Gallatin Saved the New Nation from Debt by Gregory May (Regnery History, 2018) describes the significant contributions of Gallatin, a Swiss immigrant who served as Treasury secretary during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. Gallatin’s reforms to government policy set a new precedent for fiscal responsibility that lasted well into the 20th century. An internationally known tax expert with an interest in historic preservation, May’s unique background allowed him to craft a book exploring Gallatin’s lasting influence on American fiscal policy.

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