Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

An Exploration of the Roots of American Materialism

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

An Exploration of the Roots of American Materialism

Article excerpt

An Exploration of the Roots of American Materialism Jennifer Van Horn. The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British American. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, April, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4696-2956-8. $49.95. 456pp. 6.125X9.25". 130 illustrations.

An art history and a cultural study of civility in America. It explores the roots of early American materialism, documented by the increase of diverse purchases. The study argues that these objects created an appearance of civility despite the distance from the "center" of the civilized world, England. Somehow furniture and clothing is put on the same plane as literary works, as if they are of equal cultural value. In particular, this is a study of Anglo-American society, which Van Horn argues attempted to separate itself from their African-American and Native American neighbors with finery that indicated their relatively higher status.

The cover is a bit more bitter and biting than the summary of the book, as it is an illustration of a finely dressed woman holding a fan on half of a page, and a skeleton holding an error with a dismembered, bloody skeleton and bone by her feet on the other side. With over a hundred images in the book, thankfully all of them have been professionally edited and taken. The bulk probably was done by archive and museum photographers that polished them. These venues frequently charge a good deal for this work, so this book has been handsomely fiscally supported. Oddly, at least one of the images might have been reproduced twice, once in black and white and once in color; it's the "Upper Case, Folding Glasses Pulled Out, Dressing Table, Made for Margaret Maria Livingston" from the New York Historical Society, which is also identified as the copyrights holder for the photo (205). …

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