Please join us for a talk being given by Mark Hoffman from Columbia University.
The Materiality of Ideology: Cultural Consumption and Political Thought after the American Revolution
Political identity in America dates to the turn of the 19th century, when divisions over finance and the ideal structure of governance led to bitter battles between the first political parties. I use the reading patterns of America’s earliest political and economic elites, including a significant portion of the founding fathers, who checked out books from the New York Society Library, to reveal the shifting meaning of political identity in the years between the ratification of the Constitution and the War of 1812. The reading data come from two charging ledgers spanning two periods –1789 to 1792 and 1799 to 1806 – during which a new country was built, relations with foreign nations defined, and contestation over the character of a new democracy was intense. Using novel combinations of text and network analysis, I explore the political nature of reading and the extent to which social, economic, and political positions overlapped with what people read. I identify the key intellectual and social dimensions on which New York, and by extension, American, elite society was politically stratified in its early years. In the process, I provide a framework for a material text analysis, one which embeds texts and ideas in the social processes that make them available to groups of people who exist in relation. I show how this framework can help us understand the co-evolution and co-constitution of culture and social structure and the formation of identities over the long durée.