As subjects of the British crown, the American colonists demanded representation in Parliament, fair tax, and advantage in trade during the decades leading to American Independence. Concurrently, as buyers, the colonists demanded fine English ceramics to adorn their tables. Towards the end of the 18th century, the English potters industrialized the production of their ceramics, making them cheaper to produce. Other European nations regarded this development as a threat to their own ceramic manufactories, and responded with tariffs. As a result, English potters turned their attention to the expanding market of the United States. Greater dependence on the American market persuaded many of the manufactories to cater to American taste. This manifested in countless ceramics outfitted with American prints and exported to the United States, including images of the federal eagle, George Washington, and various American naval victories.
Given the cultural significance of these objects, my project explores the formation of American national identity through their patriotic decorations. I argue that by studying the aesthetics of these ceramics, along with the ways in which they were bought, sold, used and displayed, we can understand how the men and women of the early republic regarded their place in the nation. My project is an intersection in two subfields of historical study: nationalism and material culture. It unites both fields and endeavors to interpret the ceramics as both a visible social indicator and a canvas of national identity. As such, I consider the ceramics both ‘text’ and object. They are a text in that the images they preserve have implications concerning early national loyalty and political identity, which exist in the intellectual world. Yet, it is important to remember that these images are communicated on objects. The form of the ceramics themselves in some way determines how the owners interacted with the images in their daily lives. Even if a commemorative ceramic never left its display in the cabinet, the potential of its intended use remained. The decision to buy a pitcher or platter rather than a wall hanging with a similar image perhaps adds to the image’s meaning.
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