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Title: Between 'poetry and pathos' : oriental rugs in America during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Author: Scoti, Bianca
ISNI:       0000 0004 8502 9995
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2019
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Of all the types of floor coverings, oriental rugs, particularly those originating from Iran, have been a source of fascination for centuries. My thesis explores these objects as material manifestations of middle-class identity in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Arbiters of taste, authors of domestic advice and merchants emphasised good hygiene, business sense, etiquette, refinement, domesticity, the importance of interior décor and comfort, as markers of middle-class life. By focusing on hygiene, luxury, investment, and comfort as separate case studies, I investigate how discourses on home décor and commercial distribution circulated oriental rugs to consumers of more modest means. Advertisements, trade reports, women's periodicals and art journals, portrayed them as objects that brought together and gave material form to these, at times conflicting, sets of values. Until the late nineteenth century, oriental rugs were associated with the elites. Since at least the Middle Ages, they had been symbols of opulence and high status, as documented by numerous paintings in which they conveyed the affluence and authority of the rulers and wealthy personalities depicted. However, from the second half of the nineteenth century, the development of Western industrialisation, the growing purchasing power of wider sections of society, market conditions and changing geo-political circumstances in the Middle East, transformed production and the nature of trade between this region and the West. Factories manufactured rugs in less time and with inexpensive materials to supply the growing demand from Europe and the United States. Parallel to the international trade, a market opened in the United States for American-made floor coverings that imitated oriental designs. The dissemination of oriental rugs illustrates how material goods shaped middle-class identity within the cultural and economic context of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Oriental rugs also offer insight into the ways in which the United States negotiated its place in the world as they embodied America's belief in its cultural and economic superiority. Indeed, the fascination with these artefacts and their popularity did not translate into a corresponding appreciation for the civilisations that manufactured them. Discourse and advertisements illuminate this aspect when advocating the purchase of American imitations. Thus, 'oriental rugs' came to encompass both the genuine imports and the American-made ones, both the hand-knotted and the machine-made rugs. The fluidity of the term encapsulates the aspirations of middle-class Americans as a community distinct from both the elites and the working class; but simultaneously, oriental rugs also manifest America's national ambitions on the world stage at the turn of the twentieth century.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: E151 United States (General) ; F001 United States local history