CALL FOR PAPERS for a volume on "Distinction and Identity: Bourgeois
Culture in 19th-century America." We invite scholars in various
disciplines to think about their work on culture in the context of the
emergence and consolidation of bourgeois identities in
nineteenth-century America. We are looking to engage various
disciplinary perspectives, from those of art historians to those of
sociologists, anthropologists, literary scholars and historians.
Sven Beckert, Harvard University
Julia Rosenbaum, Bard College
In the last few decades, scholars have explored in great detail the history of workers, slaves, yeoman farmers, lower middle-class citizens and other Americans. They have reconstructed these groups'live worlds, their politics and their ideas about society and their place within it. Conspicuously absent in these debates have been explorations of nineteenth-century economic elites--the bourgeoisie. This is surprising, considering that nowhere else did an economic elite emerge as powerful as that of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, effectively making the United States the most bourgeois of all nineteenth-century societies. Unlocking the history of upper-class Americans, the central social actors of the quintessential bourgeois century, provides an important key to understanding the dynamics of economic, social, cultural and political change between 1800 and 1900.
Only by raising broad questions about the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie and its making can we hope for a more comprehensive understanding of the United States in the nineteenth century. But what, precisely, constituted an American bourgeoisie? Scholars have grappled with the question for a long time. Economic position-the ownership of capital, for example-defines in some sense this group, but cannot explain the emergence of their shared identities or their capacity for collective action: After all, economic interests frequently drove bourgeois Americans apart as they competed for markets or governmental favors. One of the developments that might have driven bourgeois Americans together in the course of the nineteenth century, however, was the articulation of a shared culture. While this proposition has been explored extensively in the study of Europe's bourgeoisie, similar questions have not been addressed in a systematic fashion for the United States.
We want to rectify this situation by publishing a book that squarely focuses on the contested history of bourgeois culture in the nineteenth-century United States. By inviting leading scholars of American culture in the broadest sense to think about the specific nature of bourgeois culture, we hope to initiate a discussion that stretches across diverse disciplines. Manifold studies that have explored a wide range of topics ranging from the history of manners, food consumption, social clubs, museums, discourses on aesthetics then can all be thought of in relationship to one another. The volume we are envisioning would help unify literatures that are extremely heterogeneous and in general do not speak to one another.
What we propose to examine is the formation of a common cultural vocabulary among bourgeois Americans, an ensemble of aesthetic preferences, discourses and practices transcending divisions rooted in economic competition, the ownership of different kinds of capital, and ethnic and religious differences. In order to apprehend this culture, we want to ask historians, sociologists, anthropologists and experts in literature how nineteenth-century bourgeois come to distinguish themselves culturally and socially from other groups. How did this change over time?
These questions can best be investigated by focusing on three distinct but related areas of inquiry: Manners, tastes and dispositions; the family; and the public sphere.
When we speak of manners, tastes and dispositions we are in particular interested in consumption patterns, gender roles, dress, interior design, travel practices and leisure habits that served to differentiate the bourgeoisie from other social groups.
When we explore the family we think of marriage strategies, kinship networks, and genealogical research, encouraging inquiries into how the bourgeois family reproduced itself and established a sense of tradition and continuity.
when we talk about the public sphere we think about the forging of institutions such as the theater, opera, parks, and museums as well as educational institutions, social clubs, and associations that created a sense of cohesion and projected it into the general society.
By emphasizing culture as a process of consolidation as well as conflict this project allows us to see the creation of a bourgeoisie as the result of an active process of class formation, not as the automatic or necessary outcome of a shared position in the social structure.
Issues that we could imagine contributors exploring include, among many others, the history of table manners, ideas about separate spheres as a way of class distinction, networks facilitated by a particular social club, debates about public art, the presentation of self through portraiture, the spread of genealogy associations in late nineteenth-century America, the creation of art museums, opera houses and philharmonic orchestras, the changing design of the family parlor, the emergence of bourgeois spa towns such as Saratoga Springs, changing fashion, the search for exclusivity through the consumption of new and exotic foods, and the workings of the marriage market in a particular town or city.
If you are interested in particpating in this project, please send us a short summary of your possible contribution (about 2 pages) and a copy of your cv by February 15. You can mail your contributions (please no electronic attachments) to:
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504-5000
Department of History
Cambridge, MA 02138
If you have any questions, you can contact us by email at the addresses provided below.
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