American Commodities in an Age of Empire
By Mona Domosh
Routledge – 2006 – 216 pages
This is a novel interpretation of the relationship between consumerism, commercialism, and imperialism during the first empire building era of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Unlike other empires in history, which were typically built on military power, the first American empire was primarily a commercial one, dedicated to pushing products overseas and dominating foreign markets. While the American government was important, it was the great capitalist firms of America – Heinz, Singer, McCormick, Kodak, Standard Oil – that drove the imperial process, explicitly linking the purchase of consumer goods overseas with 'civilization'. Their persistent message to America's prospective customers was, 'buy American products and join the march of progress'.Domosh also explores how the images of peoples overseas conveyed through goods elevated America's sense of itself in the world.
"The publication of American Commodities in an Age of Empire is a welcome addition to the scholarship of late-nineteenth-century commodity cultures. It provides a convincing demonstration of the historical complexity of even the humblest of everyday objects. Domosh’s modifications of our conventional understanding of American narratives of progress, civilization, gender, and race are sophisticated and provocative. The visual materials that she presents are a significant new resource for the intended specialized audience…recommended for all scholars interested in the relationship between factory-made consumer goods, late Victorian-era cultural ideals, and US commercial imperialism." -- Interiors
1. Selling Civilization 2. The Geographies of Commercial Empire 3. The 'Great Civilizer' and Equalizer: Gender, Race, and Civilization in Singer Advertising 4. Manliness and McCormick: Frontier Narratives in Foreign Lands 5. Holidays with Heinz: Stories of Purity and Pickles in Foreign Lands 6. Commodities 'r Us Racism
Mona Domosh is Professor of Geography at Dartmouth College. She is also co-editor of the journal Cultural Geographies