At Home in Nineteenth-Century AmericaA Documentary History

At Home in Nineteenth-Century AmericaA Documentary History

Amy G. Richter

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780814769133

Publisher: NYU Press

Abstract

At Home in Nineteenth-Century America uses primary documentsto revisit the variety of places Americans called home—middle-class suburban houses, slave cabins, working-class tenements, frontier dugouts, urban settlement houses—and explore the shifting interpretations and experiences of these spaces from within and without. The selection and juxtaposition of primary sources compresses the insights of several historical fields and approaches, including house history, social history, and cultural history. It also draws heavily from the work of women’s history, particularly scholarship exploring the separate spheres ideal. Rather than offering an account of material culture, architectural history, or Victorian domesticity, this volume uses the home as a synthetic tool to pull together stories of nineteenth-century America. The result is less a tidy account of shared domestic values, or a straightforward chronology of change over time, than an opportunity to eavesdrop on a wide-ranging conversation recounting the ways in which a variety of women and men created, conformed to, critiqued, and transformed the ideal of home. This conversation included a diverse group of historical actors: a domestic servant and Herman Melville, a newlywed housewife and W.E.B. Du Bois, an interior designer and Theodore Roosevelt, all of whom contemplated the power and boundaries of the American home. Together, these voices offer an intimate yet broad view of nineteenth-century American history and sketch a narrative of both inclusion and difference.