The Material Culture of Women in Nineteenth-Century America


Fall 2012


5th Floor Classroom


Erin Eisenbarth

This course explores the cultural and material history of women in the United States during the 19th century.  How does the material record provide us with evidence for the perceived or actual roles of women in this period? How (and why) does the history of women as told through material culture look different from history as told through traditional documentary sources? Beginning after the American Revolution with the ideals of Republican motherhood, the course will move both thematically and chronologically through topics including changing ideas about women’s educational and vocational opportunities, the complicated reality behind the idea of “separate spheres”, and the importance of women’s consumer power.  Special attention will also be paid to women’s roles as agents of social change and to the material evidence of traditionally marginalized groups of women.  Readings will span the genres of women’s history, material culture, and the decorative arts and will include Joan Scott’s “Gender as a Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” works by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich,  and a variety of exhibition catalogues and monographs.  Period sources, including Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Godey’s Ladies’ Book, and The American Woman’s Home will provide an important window into the lives and concerns of 19th-century women. 3 credits.