Global Desire: International Trade and Early American Visual Culture


Panel organizer: Patricia Johnston, Salem State University (after Sept 1: College of the Holy Cross)


Americans developed a taste for global commodities and arts in the colonial period.  Trans-shipment through London was the only legal means to obtain these expensive luxuries; smuggling them in from the Caribbean hidden among legal products was a less costly avenue. Immediately after the Revolution, American ships embarked for China and other parts of Asia and the Indian and Pacific Oceans.  Direct trade made raw materials, products, and visual arts less expensive and more available to Americans. Imports from this trade—lacquerware, ceramics, painting, sculpture, furniture, silver, wallpaper, textiles, and other media—had a dramatic impact on the early American culture and politics.  Global objects provided styles and themes that eventually permeated American decorative arts, becoming visual signs of experience, social status, and economic success. 

This panel seeks papers that examine the cultural work carried out by this new international material and visual culture. What was the impact of new materials, forms, imagery, and aesthetics?  How did visual materials help shape Americans’ sense of their place in the world?  How do they reinforce or challenge American Enlightenment thinking?  How did a new globally informed American visual culture define and complicate ideas of empire in the early nineteenth century?  Do the objects, images, and their display in the Early Republic reveal a different type of orientalism than the overt imperial politics of later 19th century representations?  

Send your 250-word paper abstract to Patricia Johnston at by Friday, September 7, 2012.