Atlantic Mentalités and Materialities: Using Material Culture and Material Experience to Cross Boundaries within the Early Modern Atlantic World

AHA Session 164
Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Room 605 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Peter H. Wood, Duke University
The Audience

Session Abstract

The Atlantic framework has sought to overcome the limitations of older imperial frameworks, and has had some success pushing the boundaries of transnational and comparative history, but has nonetheless been limited by a number of factors. Most prominent have been linguistic limitations, leading scholars to focus on the British, Iberian, French, or Dutch Atlantics. The papers on this panel show that despite working within a single linguistic region of the Atlantic, focusing on material culture and material experiences allows historians to push the boundaries within the study of the Atlantic World, appealing to scholars working on these particular regions, material culture, or seeking ways to explore the potential of Atlantic studies.

Each of these papers crosses boundaries within the Atlantic World by drawing on material culture or some material experience, revealing the extent to which individuals within the Atlantic World adapted and accommodated the world that they occupied. In Erin Holmes’s paper, English colonists in the Caribbean, despite confronting a drastically different climate, built houses that resembled the ones they left in England to maintain their identity as Englishmen, but as the eighteenth century progressed, they drew upon the example of Iberian and French colonists with whom they were often in conflict to create a “Caribbean Georgian” aesthetic that changed the nature of slavery throughout the British Atlantic as planters incorporated it into buildings in the American South. Similarly, Sophie White deals with how the ideas and realities of material culture were often in conflict. She contends that the construction of distinct Atlantic worlds relied on notions of fashion and “taste” as the lucrative Spanish colonial market attracted French and colonial outfitters and merchants who used Louisiana as a stepping off point for illicit trade with Spanish colonial ports, identifying goods as being in the Spanish or French fashion when there was little or no marked difference between these different consumers.

Craig Gallager’s work expands on the importance of trade to the crossing of imagined imperial boundaries by exploring the material experiences of Scottish travelers who traveled within the Atlantic World. He argues that Scots primarily occupied Dutch and English imperial spaces, and appropriated goods and practices from each to advance their interests in the other, reshaping buildings, ships, and religious practices as they went. Tamara Walker’s paper pushes geographic boundaries instead of imperial ones, delving into how the Atlantic physically reshaped individuals by exploring the racial intermixture displayed in casta paintings from different regions within colonial Latin America. By more critically examining who appears in these images in each region, Walker pushes us to consider the kinds of ideals of Spanish womanhood and masculinity that circulated throughout Latin America and beyond its boundaries in the eighteenth century. Analyzing material culture and experiences on their own and in relation to one another, as well as the conditions of their creation, the papers on this panel consider the potential of visual and material culture to facilitate comparative historical analyses despite the limitations of language or geography.

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