Recent Dissertations

Daniel Claro (abstract)
Graduated: 2013
Principal Adviser: Ritchie Garrison, Winterthur Program in Early American Culture
Dissertation Title: Bodies in Motion: Material Culture and the Experience of Mobility, 1803-1851

Bess Williamson (abstract)
Graduated: 2012
Principal Adviser: Arwen Mohun, Department of History
Dissertation Title: The Right to Design: Disability and Access in the United States, 1945-1990

Laura Johnson (abstract)
Graduated: 2011
Principal Adviser: Christine Heyrman, Department of History
Dissertation Title: Material Translations: Cloth in Early American Encounters, 1520-1750

Hillary Murtha (abstract)
Graduated: 2010
Principal Adviser: Anne Boylan, Department of History
Dissertation Title: Instruments of Power: Sonic Signaling Devices and American Labor Management, 1821-1876

Janneken Smucker (abstract)
Graduated: 2010
Principal Adviser: Susan Strasser, Department of History
Dissertation Title: From Rags to Riches: Amish Quilts and the Crafting of Value

Zara Anishanslin-Bernhardt (abstract)
Graduated: 2009
Principal Adviser: Bernard L. Herman, Department of Art History
Dissertation Title: Portrait of a Woman in a Silk Dress: The Hidden Histories of Aesthetic Commodities in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World

Rebecca Sheppard (abstract)
Graduated: 2009
Principal Adviser: Ritchie Garrison, Winterthur Program in Early American Culture
Dissertation Title: Making the Farm Pay: Persistence and Adaptation in the Evolution of Delaware’s Agricultural Landscape, 1780-2005

Bryn Varley Hollenbeck (abstract)
Graduated: 2008
Principal Adviser: Ritchie Garrison, Winterthur Program in Early American Culture
Dissertation Title: Making Space for Children: The Material Culture of American Childhoods, 1900-1950

Patricia J. Keller (abstract)
Graduated: 2007
Principal Adviser: Bernard L. Herman, Department of Art History
Dissertation Title: The Quilts of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: Production, Context, and Meaning, 1750-1884

Jalynn Olsen Padilla (abstract)
Graduated: 2007
Principal Adviser: Anne Boylan, Department of History
Dissertation Title: Army of ‘cripples’: Northern Civil War Amputees, Disability, and Manhood in Victorian America

Thomas Ryan (abstract)
Graduated: 2005
Principal Adviser: Bernard L. Herman, Department of Art History
Dissertation Title: Jacob Eichholtz and an Artist’s Construction of Middle-class Identity in Nineteenth-Century Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Ann Kirschner (abstract)
Graduated: 2004
Principal Adviser: Christine L. Heyrman, Department of History
Dissertation Title: “God Visited My Slumber”: The Intersection of Dreams, Religion, and Society in America, 1770-1830

Ryan K. Smith (abstract)
Graduated: 2002
Principal Adviser: Christine L. Heyrman, Department of History
Dissertation Title: Protestant Popery: Catholic Art in Protestant Churches, 1830-1890

Diane E. Wenger (abstract)
Graduated: 2002
Principal Adviser: Cathy Matson, Department of Art History
Dissertation Title: Creating Networks: The Country Storekeeper and the Mid-Atlantic Economy

Cynthia G. Falk (abstract)
Graduated: 2001
Principal Adviser: Bernard L. Herman, Department of Art History
Dissertation Title: Constructing Identity with Belongings and Buildings: Pennsylvania Germans in the New Nation

Christopher Schroeder (abstract)
Graduated: 2000
Principal Adviser: Christine L. Heyrman, Department of History
Dissertation Title: Dreams of a Prairie Republic: Morris Birkbeck and settlement on the Indiana-Illinois Frontier, 1764-1860


Daniel Claro Abstract:

During the first half of the nineteenth century, improvements in the technologies and infrastructures of transport and tourism changed what it meant to be mobile. In America, travel became faster and more commercialized, more complex as settlement expanded, more crowded as populations doubled and redoubled, and more variegated as new choices altered the social and sensory experiences people encountered. In diaries and letters, many travelers tried to capture the dynamic experience of these changing social and material contexts, and their first-person perspectives provide clues about why and how they made the choices they did. This dissertation considers the chronology of changing transportation from a human scale, exploring the way in which practical concerns of equipage and landscape reveal the nature and meaning of travel to individuals. I argue that the material culture of antebellum travel manifests tensions between what bodies needed, what culture required, and what the journey was intended to accomplish. The transportation revolution and industrialization did not resolve this tension because travel remained intermodal while social and cultural stakes went up and expectations grew more commercialized. It was increasingly possible to purchase goods and services that made travel easier, or less risky, but to a remarkable degree getting from place to place over long distances still required individual travelers to exercise considerable patience and flexibility.


Bess Wiliamson Abstract:

In the second half of the twentieth century, Americans with disabilities were increasingly likely to find physical accommodation in architecture and design, ranging from wheelchair ramps and accessible public buses to large-handled can openers and enlarged product labels. These artifacts of “accessible” design reflect a shift in American perceptions of disability during this period. Whereas mid-century policymakers, social workers, and medical professionals emphasized the need for people with disabilities to “overcome” physical barriers alone, over time they came to accept that integration would require changes in the built environment and everyday technologies. With the influence of the American Disability Rights Movement that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, accessible measures became matters of civil rights, not just convenience. While disability is a lesser-known issue in the history of civil rights, evidence of this movement surrounds us, integrated into design standards and public services, and debated in forums of public planning and design.

This dissertation traces the processes through which Americans established a “right to design,” or the expectation that physical spaces and consumer objects would provide for a diverse public. With a growing, increasingly active population of people with disabilities, including those caused by wars, automobile and industrial accidents, and disabling diseases such as polio, the everyday built environment of stairs, doorways, bathrooms, housewares, and appliances posed technical difficulties. Throughout the mid to late twentieth century, various groups and figures proposed that technological change would bring about inclusion for this population. Initially, policymakers and medical professionals proposed individual technologies of adaptation, from personal automobiles to tactics of home renovation. As an emerging rights movement pointed out, however, these measures were insufficient to allow people with disabilities truly to move about on their own accord and participate in society. In a series of legislative efforts, culminating in the Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal government made physical access a public priority, mandating that public sites and services provide “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities.

“The Right to Design” refers to the ways in which the mandate of physical access shaped not only legal codes and requirements, but cultural production. In what Lizabeth Cohen calls the “Consumer’s Republic” of mid to late twentieth century America, access to consumer amenities stood as a proxy for citizenship in the most powerful capitalist economy in the world. Equal participation in consumer culture became a goal for many under-represented groups, including people with disabilities. As physical accessibility became more common in government services and public sites, designers and consumers also sought ways to make the “Consumer’s Republic” accessible as well. Through experimental means and mass-market products, participants in this effort forged new meanings for access, calling for social inclusion in American material culture.


Laura Johnson Abstract:

Exploring the mutability of cloth and dress in determining one’s place in early American society is at the heart of this investigation. In intricate cultural calculations, Indians could be both encouraged to accept and paradoxically prohibited from wearing European textiles. Their desire for and access to these articles in the larger trade goods complex became a function and focus of colonial governments from contact through the mid-eighteenth century. Textiles functioned as devices for the creation and re-creation of identity, relationships of exchange and kinship, political and social power–all forms of cultural production–on the early American frontier. This dissertation explores the role of cloth in exchange relationships and identity formation through a close examination of the American southeast. Other regions of intense inter-colonial conflict, such as the mid-Atlantic or the Great Lakes regions, provide excellent occasional opportunities for comparative analysis of the intensely layered textile interactions occurring between Europeans and southeastern Natives. Rather than present analysis using a Eurocentric framework, I focus on Native access to and use of European-produced textiles, which fell into one or more themes. Natives themselves would not have classified their perception of or use of wovens using these categories, but analysis of treaty records, archaeological remains, swatches, account books, prints and paintings reveal that Natives consumed textiles in one or more of these methods.


Hillary Murtha Abstract:

Historically, bells and other sonic signaling instruments have proved extremely versatile for sending forth a multiplicity of signals throughout many kinds of communities. This dissertation explores nineteenth-century America labor managers’ use of bell, and in some cases, horn signals to direct, discipline and subordinate their workforces–a phenomenon here termed “sonic labor management.” “Instruments of Power” is a tripartite study that examines industrial labor, agricultural labor and domestic labor, and discusses both free and enslaved workers.

Geographically, the first section focuses on New England textile mills, the second on southern plantations (both during the antebellum period and Reconstruction), and the third on domestic service in both northern and southern antebellum homes. Although the managerial authority embodied in bell signals never went entirely unchallenged, in each setting signal bells gave visible and aural shape to managerial power and demarked racial, gender and, especially, class hierarchies. This is an interdisciplinary study, traversing the fields of material culture, aural history and labor history, and exploring the interrelations between the visible, the audible and the internalized.


Janneken Smucker Abstract:

By examining the relationship of Amish quilts to the individuals who made, bought, sold, exhibited, and preserved them during the last half of the twentieth century, my dissertation investigates intersections of art, craft, fashion, globalization, and consumer culture. I argue that both Amish and non-Amish individuals, influenced by understandings of theology, Modernism, connoisseurship, nostalgia, “Amishness,” consumerism, and authenticity, crafted the value–monetary, aesthetic, emotional, and cultural–of Amish quilts during this era. In the 1970s old Amish quilts became status symbols within the art world because to art enthusiasts’ modern eyes, they looked like abstract paintings when hung on walls. Part of the appeal stemmed from the quilts’ origins within a seemingly exotic American subculture that was simultaneously otherworldly and evocative of America’s own pre-industrial past. When antiques dealers came knocking on Amish doors in search of quilts, families were eager to sell rather than continue to own an object the outside world considered a valuable work of art. Soon Amish entrepreneurs found additional ways to benefit from the newfound interest in their bedcovers; they made new quilts to sell on the retail market. Following the Vietnam War, Hmong refugees arrived in the United States with their own needlework skills. Some of these immigrants soon found piecework in cottage industries making quilts sold to tourists visiting Amish settlements; but rather than market these as Hmong-made quilts, businesses promoted them as Amish-made. With the commercial success of new quilts, multinational corporations also attempted to gain a share of the market by outsourcing Amish-style quilts for production in factories in China. Concerned consumers wanted assurances that the quilts they bought were in fact made by Amish quilters, rather than Hmong seamstresses or Chinese factory workers, valuing “Amish” as a seal of authenticity. Quilts, considered a quintessentially American form of cultural production, became a flash point in the Buy America campaigns of the 1990s, indicative of both increasing globalization and hyper-consumption.


Zara Anishanslin-Bernhardt Abstract:

This dissertation explores the many hidden histories revealed by a single resonant object: a 1746 portrait of a woman in a silk dress. In this portrait, New England artist Robert Feke portrays Philadelphian Anne Shippen Willing wearing a Spitalfields flowered silk, a fabric woven in London by Huguenot Simon Julins after a pattern by English silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite. Each chapter of my dissertation considers one of these four creators of this object (designer, client, weaver, and painter) and discusses transatlantic networks linked to them in the time (1688 to 1791) and space of their collective lives. Ranging from Philadelphia, London, and Newport, to Lincolnshire, Boston, and Bermuda, my work challenges scholarly models that privilege metropole over colony as it alternates between metropolitan and colonial perspectives of production, consumption, and use. Analysis of architectural spaces, decorative arts, and cultural landscapes as well as textiles, silk designs, and portraits–all tied together through this single portrait–reveals that the makers and users of these objects and images fashioned and displayed ideologies, from the personal to the political, through their material world.

My work contributes to scholarship on the consumer revolution by revealing the emotive, ideological power objects hold beyond consumer behaviorism or emulative refinement. In particular, this portrait of a colonial merchant’s wife wearing a flowered silk dress highlights how people in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic World produced, used and consumed aesthetic representations of nature to express cultural fascinations, map changes in their landscapes, perform colonial merchant identity, fashion revolutionary political economy, and imagine America as an imperial New Eden. This single object reveals the importance of nature and landscape for creole and merchant identity formation, particularly how classical republicanism manifested materially and people used aesthetic commodities to wrestle with issues of commerce, consumption, and virtue in the British Atlantic World.


Rebecca Sheppard Abstract:

This dissertation explores the evolution of the built environment and landscape associated with agriculture in Delaware, between 1780 and 2005. Agriculture is an economic system, a way of life, and a cultural landscape. It also evokes aesthetic responses that can have political repercussions and it is a form of environmental land use with ecological consequences. Over the past three centuries, the agricultural landscape of Delaware evolved in response to a variety of pressures and forces. Different elements of the landscape appeared, changed, or vanished. What persists provides clues for understanding that evolution and the forces that shaped it. This dissertation argues that we can learn much about how the practice and product of agriculture in Delaware evolved from the evidence that survives in its landscape. The recursive relationships between people, land, markets, and society have long driven changes to the built environment. The landscape materializes relationships of farmers and laborers and shows us how families coped with shifts in the economy and the market. The objects in those landscapes document the range of choices farm families confronted and the ways in which they altered their environment. Ultimately, the landscape teaches us about Delaware farmers’ responses to the “Great Transformation” from an agrarian economy and culture to an urban, industrial society. This dissertation uses a close examination of the state’s agricultural history and landscape to address these issues. Case studies of individual farm landscapes serve to reveal the broader patterns in each of the state’s various regions and allow us to gauge the extent of change and persistence in farming over time.


Bryn Varley Hollenbeck Abstract:

This dissertation analyzes the relationship of the home to child rearing and family life between 1900 and 1950. This study explores the ways in which parents used their homes to nurture their children, and the reasons why different options were available and attractive. Specifically, this project tours the middle class family house and investigates the construction and use of the many spaces of childhood: the small child’s bedroom; the household spaces, inside and out, where the child played; and the places utilized for education and discipline. The sources include design treatises, medical literature, advice manuals, government publications, trade literature, poetry and fiction, works of art, photographs, autobiographies, and personal writings in letters and baby books. Through this research, it becomes clear that evolving theories of child rearing, the realities of parenting, and the activities of children shaped the ideology, function, and material culture of middle-class homes. Focusing on the material culture of childhood reveals much about middle-class Americans’ views of the past, their hopes for the future, and the ways in which people used objects as a response to cultural transformations and dislocations. Additionally, by analyzing the family home and the young child’s place and spaces therein, this project produces a nuanced portrait of “modern” America. It points to the importance of young families as contributors to critical trends in twentieth century history, as they drove suburbanization, consumer culture, professionalization, medical advances, a national media, and a nuanced middle-class identity. This dissertation contributes to historiographical discussions about the nature of childhood and child rearing in history, agency and causality in design and suburbanization, consumerization, nature, memory and modernization, and the role of material culture in creating and contesting identity. Finally, this dissertation illuminates the interplay among experts and parents, and highlights the power of both parents and children in the negotiation of the home and the greater culture.


Patricia J. Keller Abstract:

This dissertation explores when and why home-produced bedquilts and quiltmaking evolved as significant objects and activities in the 18th and 19th centuries among women residing in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I rely on probate inventory data drawn from six selected decades between 1750 and 1884, for estates from urban Lancaster Borough/City (primarily Germanic with a significant English element) and two disparate outlying rural areas: Drumore Township, settled by British Quaker and Scotch Irish Presbyterians; and the Cocalico valley, a Germanic region settled by persons of Anabaptist, Lutheran, and Reformed faiths. I use rates of ownership and appraised valuations of fiber-processing tools, spinning wheels, looms, and household furnishing textiles, as primary evidence to develop and interpret patterns of household textile production and consumption from the mid 1700s through the mid- and late-1800s. Bedquilts’ meanings were situational and changing. These were tasteful and costly ready-made consumer trade goods popular among the international elite of the Atlantic world by 1750. Bedquilts emerged as the handwork of elite and typically urban women later in the century, markers of status and needlework competency, and fell from urban fashion in the early decades of the 1800s. Simultaneously, quilts and quiltmaking were embraced by some rural women as the1800s progressed, as industrialized spinning and factory textile production displaced household hand-spinning, dislocating women from this ages-old arena of handcraft production. The quilts these rural women and their descendants produced in the ensuing years met profound needs for women’s continued involvement in the production of cultural material and situated their makers within multiple contexts of gender, taste, needlework competency, social and community identities, and ideology.


Jalynn Olsen Padilla Abstract:

More than 20,000 Union Army soldiers returned from the American Civil War missing an arm or a leg. For decades and even generations after the war’s end, Americans’ image of the Civil War veteran often included an empty sleeve or pant leg. Although scholars of the Reconstruction and Gilded Age eras have studied the experiences of disabled veterans as recipients of federal pension benefits or as beggars on city streets, only recently have they turned to considering veterans within the framework of disability history. This dissertation examines the readjustment, work, and personal experiences of the most visible group of disabled veterans–amputees–along with the shifting cultural meanings attached to their disabled bodies. Using sources such as census and pension records, literary productions, prosthetic manufacturers’ catalogs, and amputees’ own writings, it explores how the presence of Civil War amputees forced Northerners to reconsider what it meant to be a “cripple” in Victorian America and how the men themselves adjusted to the loss of physical wholeness.

Two themes run through this dissertation: the desire of Union amputees to be seen as independent and their concerns about looking manly in the public arena. While many disabled veterans made a successful postwar transition to paid work, they often had to rely on the federal government for financial assistance and on female family members for help with daily tasks. They frequently called on their war experience to differentiate themselves from other nineteenth-century “cripples.” As able-bodied men paid increasing attention to their appearance in public, particularly bodily symmetry and muscular strength, Union amputees expressed concerns about matching up to the ideal. They often claimed to wear their empty sleeves and pant legs as badges of honor, but privately wished they had the strong, athletic bodies they had taken to war. Prosthetics manufacturers designed and advertised substitute limbs, but few amputees used them consistently. By placing disabled Union amputees at the center of analysis, my work illuminates the Civil War’s enduring legacy of disability that continued to shape the daily lives of maimed veterans, the nature of public policy, and the cultural perception of disabled bodies.


Thomas Ryan Abstract:

This dissertation is about objects, identity and middle-class formation in early nineteenth-century America. First, it explores the interpretive power of objects–among them a “flower chest,” a copper measure, and a portrait–to understand the occupational journey of a young coppersmith, Jacob Eichholtz, within the context of three generations of his family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In the process objects demonstrate a power beyond their ability to merely illustrate arguments based on documentary records or supplement the evidentiary basis of historical interpretation; objects do more than mark identity, they make identity.

Second, this study delves into the nascent world of early nineteenth-century American art, and the rarified world of twentieth-century art collecting, to challenge the validity of assertions of “native genius” in the one and the moniker of “naive” art in the other. In the first case it demonstrates that only by constant application, instruction from available sources at hand, and the support of benefactors could an aspirant like Jacob Eichholtz gain sufficient competence and capital to succeed in the competitive world of American art. In the second instance, this study argues that naïve art and folk art are expressions of individuals who worked outside of the mainstreams of popular culture and unaware of the western studio-art tradition.

Finally, this project argues that Jacob Eichholtz’s 1832 rowhouse established the standard for middle-class architecture in Lancaster lasting into the twentieth century. Yet, it did so amidst a diverse architectural landscape and new ideas about class and the configuration of urban space. More specifically, this dissertation demonstrates that the presence of Pennsylvania German architecture in urban centers in the nineteenth century was more than a matter of surviving examples from the eighteenth century; two new house forms were derived from the earlier tradition and competed for favor among Lancaster’s middle class. Eventually, however, middle-class Lancastrians chose the rowhouse form as their preferred domestic arrangement, and the more prosperous among them, like Jacob Eichholtz, chose to situate their residences in new, residential neighborhoods that were themselves symbols of middle-class refinement.


Ann Kirschner Abstract:

The diaries and memoirs of evangelical Protestants in eighteenth-century America reveal an overlooked belief and devotional practice: the recording of spiritual dreams. Dreams often prodded nonbelievers into spiritual conviction and conversion and also were entwined with evangelicalism’s most essential daily practices–prayer and study of the Bible. Like conventional prayer, spiritual dreams were thought to offer the chance for “sensible communion” with God. That dialogue often delivered specific bible verses that seemingly addressed the dreamer’s spiritual condition or brought him face-to-face with exemplary biblical figures. Dreams thus delivered animated and personalized versions of the scriptures evangelicals devoted themselves to reading daily. For many evangelicals, to dream was to experience religion. Indeed, the validation of spiritual dreams depended on distinguishing them as personal religious “experiences” in order to shield them from charges of religious enthusiasm levied against those who fell into trances, shouted too exuberantly in public meeting, or claimed religious authority on the basis of visions.

The dissertation examines how believers came to embrace their dreams yet wrestled with their meaning and source; how contemporary pedagogy and gender influenced the imagery of dreams; and the limits evangelical culture placed upon the experience of dreaming. The result is a new picture of evangelical spirituality, one in which demonic power threatened in tangible and psychic form, leading a great many believers to doubt the validity of their own conversions as well as their ability to discern God’s will. As if to counter these doubts, evangelical dreams disclose a deep concern for proving piety through spiritually-guided good deeds and suggest how that pursuit awakened significant issues of gender identity. What their dreams also reveal is a culture preoccupied with the power of writing, reading, and speaking as signs of God’s grace and as weapons that could thwart the devil and frustrate new sects that used their visionary power to promote controversial theologies. This emphasis on literacy had at least one salutary result: spurred by their dreams to create written records of their spiritual experiences, some evangelical women made tangible the religious authority promised in their dreams but hindered in their churches.


Ryan K. Smith Abstract:

A contradiction in Protestant/Catholic relations arose in antebellum America. From 1820 to 1850, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States gained about 1.6 million members, growing from a tiny minority into the country’s largest single religious body. This rapid growth triggered a corresponding rise in anti-Catholic hostilities. Activists representing every major Protestant denomination attacked “popery” through lectures, tracts, newspapers, missionary societies, and politics. Yet at the same time, a remarkable change was taking place in Protestant church buildings. Previous generations of Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Congregationalists, and Baptists had guarded their distinct traditions against any associations with Catholicism. But in the 1830s, these denominations began employing symbolic crosses, building Gothic-inspired churches, decorating sanctuaries with flowers and candles, worshipping with robed choirs–in sum, practicing elements of the “popery” that they were denouncing. Such innovations inspired fierce controversies, but by the late nineteenth century, the wave of appropriations had reached a successful conclusion, as crosses, choirs, and the like lost their Catholic associations and sparked resistance only among small factions of the main denominations.

This dissertation attempts to relate these appropriations to the anti-Catholic activities surrounding them, through a mixture of design analysis and narrative history. It finds that both trends revealed a recognition of power in the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic worship, in its tradition, its art, and its emphasis on tangible access to the sacred, seems to have been well suited for the era’s romanticism and market-based materialism. Far from being exclusively the concern of urban immigrants, Catholic designs appealed to young, genteel observers throughout the country, and it was this segment of Protestant congregations that promoted the artistic innovations most vigorously. Their appropriations served as a subtle strategy intended to win and retain more Protestant converts while denying the unique attractions of Catholicism. The results presented a colorful new religious landscape. But in the innumerable aspects of Catholic worship that were not adopted and, more profoundly, in the competitive aims of the appropriation, they also illustrated the durability of traditional religious boundaries.


Diane E. Wenger Abstract:

This dissertation analyzes the role of the country storekeeper in the early republic. Samuel Rex operated his store from 1790 to 1807 in Schaefferstown, a small Pennsylvania German village seventy-five miles from Philadelphia. Through his activities Rex connected Schaefferstown residents, the regional iron-producing community, and Philadelphia merchants in an interconnected network of relations. Rex’s Schaefferstown customers obtained some needs through traditional exchanges, but they also produced goods for distant markets, and they sought consumer goods they could not make or buy locally. At his store, Rex facilitated both local and distant exchanges; he offered banking services, sold luxury and everyday merchandise, and bought country produce and manufactured goods. He resold some of these goods locally, but he sold far more to the regional ironmasters. He supplied pork and grain to feed their workers, and served as a company store where workers charged purchases against their wages.

Rex also sold produce in Philadelphia. Twice a year he hired local farmers and craftsmen to drive butter, whiskey, lard and other produce to the city and to carry back cargoes of imported goods to replenish his inventory. Urban merchants welcomed Rex’s business because he bought large amounts of goods and paid for them on time, and because he channeled country produce to them. Though Rex sometimes encountered problems, most transactions at the store took place in a spirit of mutuality and meeting common interests. He succeeded in a risky business because of his location and a favorable economy, and because he had the right combination of background and skills; he was equally at home in the countryside and in the urban business community. This study contributes to our understanding of everyday life in the mid-Atlantic, inland commerce and transportation, and the exchange role of country storekeepers. It illustrates the mixed nature of the economy and complicates the market/community dichotomy that informs most interpretive models. It shows that the storekeeper was both an economic and cultural broker–an agent of exchange and change–and suggests that a “network of relations” is a fruitful way to understand early American economy and society.


Cynthia G. Falk Abstract:

Studies of late eighteenth-century Pennsylvanians of German descent have often highlighted the role ethnic background played in distinguishing members of the group and the objects they created and used. Although research on contemporary British-Americans has addressed how social and economic status affected participation in the consumer revolution and the degree to which individuals embraced new objects associated with refinement and gentility, similar issues have not been explored with regard to the Pennsylvania Germans. In analyzing the material culture associated with the group, scholars have generally perceived people of German descent as part of a homogenous community united by ethnic background and have overlooked divisions based on rank, or even religious belief. When they have observed change or divergence among members of the group, they have quickly turned to interpretations focused on Pennsylvania German assimilation.

This dissertation takes a new approach to the study of Pennsylvania German material culture. Using period documentary sources as well as evidence instilled in surviving buildings and other artifacts, this study reevaluates the importance of ethnic affiliation in the lives of late eighteenth-century Pennsylvanians of various nationalities. It specifically addresses the roles ethnic background, social and economic status, and religious belief all played as people of German descent made choices about what types of houses to inhabit and how to furnish them.
Late eighteenth-century commentators often exaggerated the presumably ethnic characteristics of Pennsylvania Germans’ built environment in order to make statements about the national economy and the hierarchical ordering of society. Surviving structures, on the other hand, indicate that elite people of both German and English descent were engaged in a period of transition in regard to their domestic accommodations. The dwellings they constructed were of a new form and were furnished with new kinds of objects. They reflected contemporary ideas about improvement and luxury. They served as physical manifestations of refinement and gentility, characteristics fundamentally associated with status, which were tempered by religious exhortations against extravagance. As expressions of personal identity, they demonstrate the importance rank and religious piety, as well as ethnic background, held in the lives of Pennsylvania Germans.


Christopher Schroeder Abstract:

A community study and intellectual biography, Dreams of a Prairie Republic follows immigrant Europeans, white Southerners, Eastern migrants, and free and bound African Americans as they converged on an Illinois settlement known as “English Prairie,” founded by English radical Morris Birkbeck (1764-1825). Closely tied to London radicalism, the freethinking Birkbeck arrived in America in 1817 yearning for a new society free from traditional religious and political authority. Within a year, he had secured more than 29,000 acres for a venture that became a transatlantic cause cèlébre as hundreds of settlers flocked to the lower Wabash frontier after encountering Birkbeck’s trans-Appalachian dream in popular accounts of his immigration experience. That controversy sparked a transatlantic pamphlet war that spoke to the post-revolutionary debate on virtue, authority, and the place of the West in America’s republican destiny and identity. Contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic came to view English Prairie as a microcosm of the radical promise inherent in republican revolution, a grand experiment in human nature with revolutionary implications for the church and state relationship, indeed for all of society. But during the initial decade of settlement chaos reigned. Political and personal rivalries arose between elite factions, while immigrant radicals and free blacks sparred with traditional Southern whites over slavery and differing concepts of race and masculine independence. By 1860, much of Birkbeck’s radical dream had fallen to the conflictive reality of social and cultural diversity and the instability of a developing market economy. In their struggle to forge a unified “American” identity in the face of disunion, English Prairie’s white heirs bridged old cultural divisions by defining their world along traditional lines of anti-Catholic evangelicalism, republican nationalism, racism, and material progress, a hard-won compromise between the cultural values brought by British immigrant settlers and the racial and religious mores of the white Southerners who dominated migration to the region. In probing the intersection between late Georgian radicalism and the development of trans-Appalachian North America, the dissertation illuminates the roles played by transatlantic reform impulses, ethnic relations, slavery, and sectionalism in building a liberal social order in the early republic.