Summer 2016 Abstract – W&M Cambridge

In Summer 2016, I will be spending the month of July participating in a summer study abroad program at Christ’s College at the University of Cambridge. I will be taking classes while abroad that focus on English culture, literature, and history, and our program will include excursions to other locations in England including Bath, Oxford, London, Stonehenge, and Blenheim. The weekend excursions will allow us to understand and study English culture through immersion and first-hand experience, and they will complement our class discussions. In addition to our coursework and excursions, we will be given the opportunity to explore Cambridge and assimilate into the local culture in our free time during the week. I intend to use part of this free time to visit museums and libraries in research for my honors thesis.

My honors thesis focuses on the history of the development of a distinct material culture in eighteenth-century Williamsburg, Virginia. It will highlight a case study of the textile trades and the tradesmen and women who produced and consumed a significant number of material goods throughout the century, providing cohesive examples of the fluidity of Williamsburg’s consumer and material cultures in the Revolution and the capital’s move to Richmond. In Williamsburg, an economic standard of choice formed through the consumer marketplace, which developed in the shift to a social-based dining, retail, and entertainment culture between the 1730s and 1750s. In the 1760s and 1770s, it morphed to reflect changing attitudes about the British government and then the Revolution itself, adopting a wartime economic outlook. As the American Revolution ended and the Virginian capital moved to Richmond in the early 1780s, this material culture changed once more to echo the socio-economic and cultural implications of a post-war city in which Virginia’s political power no longer resided.

The thesis will be structured in three parts that, when taken together, will trace the narrative of Williamsburg’s material culture throughout the eighteenth century. The first section will present a history of Williamsburg’s growth from its incorporation in 1699 to the outbreak of war in 1775. The expansive growth of the tailoring, mantuamaking, and millinery trades will illustrate the goods and services available in the city as a result of the consumer revolution and the dining and entertainment culture. British imports and the mercantilist relationship between Britain and her colonies defined Williamsburg’s economy and material culture into the 1770s. As roughly fifty percent of all imports to the colonies were textiles, the textile trades provide a powerful example of this culture. The second section of the thesis will focus on the nature of the material culture of revolutionary Williamsburg. As consumer purchasing power became a vehicle for political agency in the period leading up to the revolution, economic activity had to change to reflect both these new political ideals and the social and cultural effects of war. The availability, quantity, and quality of goods transformed the peacetime material culture in Williamsburg, for the effects of nonimportation, boycotting, and military demands were seen in the material products of tradeswomen like milliners and mantuamakers. The final section of the thesis will explore the post-revolutionary material culture in Williamsburg, especially after Governor Thomas Jefferson moved the Virginia capital to Richmond on April 18, 1780. Social institutions like taverns and shops remained after the move; local milliner Margaret Hunter kept her shop open in Williamsburg after the Revolution. Even though Williamsburg was no longer the center of government, it still was an important economic and cultural center for the state.

The records available in the libraries and museums around Cambridge and in London will add a detailed perspective of British imports and the trade relationship between the colonies and their mother country to my analysis of the economic and consumer culture in Williamsburg and of the textile trades. I am looking forward to using my study abroad experiences, particularly the enriching research, travel, and study that I will undertake in Cambridge, to make my thesis more comprehensive.


  1. Monica Cronin says:

    Hey Evelyn!

    Your thesis topic sounds incredible – I am particularly interested in your analysis of how the transition from an overseas British market to a liminal wartime material culture transformed the economic climate of Williamsburg. I bet your previous experience interning in the milliner’s shop gives you a great foundation and insight into the topic.

    Can’t wait to see where you go with this! Hope you are loving England!