Cotton, class and commerce : elite durability in nineteenth century Connecticut
The thesis challenges two enduring tenets in American history and culture: (a) that nineteenth century modernity generated widespread incidences of 'social disorder', culminating in democratic waves that swept mercantile, landowning elites from power: (b) that industrialisation is explainable by a binary theory either in terms of anachronistic or autocratic mill villages, or a modern, urban, democratic process. The former belief institutionalises the nation's pluralistic culture. The latter, aided by an expanding heritage industry, underpin the overarching paradigms laid down by the former. Together, they not only conceal the enduring roots and nature of social power, but also render opaque industrial and economic developments beyond a prescribed region. In demonstrating elite persistence and continuity, and to highlight the complexities and subtleties constituting modernising processes, this study takes a prosopographical and cultural-geographic approach. It explores the careers, character and capital of a representative leadership group in postbellum northeastern Connecticut by melding together structure and agency within contexts of memory, perception and spatiality. Integrative approaches such as these reveal the complex and elaborate techniques that in promoting particular interpretations of the past, deflect attention from the ways in which power is preserved and transmitted. Through an analysis of short biographies, obituaries, credit records, probated papers, censuses, contemporary newspapers, maps, pamphlets, bird's-eye-views and urban promotional materials, the thesis demonstrates how elites shaped and exploited organisations, institutions and associations, modernising landscapes, urban and rural spaces, monuments, historic sites, art and architecture in order to preserve and reproduce their control and authority over time.