Atlantic world trade and the production of social meaning: Silver, ceramics, and spinning wheels, 1500-1900.
Nickisher, Heidi C.
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This dissertation argues that between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, silver, ceramics, and spinning wheels were historically significant commodities in Atlantic world trade that have much to tell us about the significance of material objects in the production and transmission of social, cultural, and personal meanings. Examining how these commodities circulated and how their meanings shifted as they moved through time and place, I ground my study in the fields of Atlantic world history, transnational cultural studies, and material culture studies. In the process, I address the impact of trade on material culture as I consider some of the exchanges and objects (e.g., silver for porcelain) that circulated around the Atlantic basin. At the center of my analysis are the dynamics of East meeting West via the lively global trade in porcelain. I identify a variety of design sources, noting that the exact origins of particular designs may be difficult to trace due to the extraordinary amount of porcelain traded in the eighteenth century alone. While China was the central place of origin for the eponymous China trade, the cultural meanings of possessing porcelain and interpreting its designs mutated significantly over time and place. The dissertation concludes by examining the history of the spinning wheel in North America as a representative example of how the material and social histories of objects contribute to defining socio-cultural, even political, identity-formation and how those objects are then used to exchange ideas and create meaningful personal symbols.