Dressing Democracy: Clothing and Culture in America

American Studies Seminar
Hannah Carlson

Touted as the only nation where citizens could not be classed by their appearance, Americans were nevertheless anxious about the ways they presented themselves in a world without fixed social hierarchies. This seminar examined this crisis of self-presentation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America, exploring the ways in which aspirants to genteel culture — as well as those excluded from it — employed dress, etiquette and deportment to personal and political ends.

The seminar introduced students to key literature in the interdisciplinary fields of American studies, material culture, and the history of dress, and to a wide range of primary sources in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society. After an initial reading period, the class focused on archive-based research at the AAS that explores an aspect of material culture (examining the production, history and meanings tied to a particular artifact); the dress codes of a defined group; or a cultural practice related to appearance. The seminar used preparatory assignments, discussion, and peer review to help participants craft well-planned and well-argued projects.

The seminar was led by Hannah Carlson.

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