Bowing to Necessities : A History of Manners in America, 1620-1860
Anglo-Americans wrestled with some profound cultural contradictions as they shifted from the hierarchical and patriarchal society of the seventeenth-century frontier to the modern and fluid class democracy of the mid-nineteenth century. How could traditional inequality be maintained in the socially leveling environment of the early colonial wilderness? And how could nineteenth-century Americans pretend to be equal in an increasingly unequal society? Bowing to Necessities argues that manners provided ritual solutions to these central cultural problems by allowing Americans to act out--and thus reinforce--power relations just as these relations underwent challenges. Analyzing the many sermons, child-rearing guides, advice books, and etiquette manuals that taught Americans how to behave, this book connects these instructions to individual practices and personal concerns found in contemporary diaries and letters. It also illuminates crucial connections between evolving class, age, and gender relations. A social and cultural history with a unique and fascinating perspective, Hemphill's wide-ranging study offers readers a panorama of America's social customs from colonial times to the Civil War.
- Electronic book text | 321 pages
- 01 Dec 1999
- Oxford University Press
- Oxford, United Kingdom
"Hemphill's approach to [her] subject is refreshing. She brings serious understanding and a subtlety of mind to a body of knowledge that initially appears infinitely exhausting....Manners, as we commonly know, manage conflicts, contradictions, and hostility between people in the vagaries of everyday life. In the larger patterns of historical time, Hemphill argues that conduct books served to reflect relationships of power, class, gender, and age by means of which cultures performed serious work. Before 1740, manners reinforced inequality in a deferential, hierarchic structure. After, until the middle of the nineteenth century, they served as form and function for a 'rising' middle class that was realizing the possibilities of revolution through claims to republican and democratic values, albeit controversial. Hemphill succeeds in developing a one-dimensional source into a complex, shrewd story."--Burton J. Bledstein, University of Illinois at Chicago"Manners have been receiving growing scholarly attention of late, in part perhaps because of the uncertainties about contemporary civilities. In this striking new contribution, C. Dallett Hemphill provides important new insights about the origins of American manners and about the role of changing etiquette standards in forming social class and gender definitions. There are provocative implications in this careful yet imaginative inquiry for topics as wide-ranging as childhood and humor."--Peter Stearns, Carnegie Mellon University"Make no mistake: this marvelous book is much more than a narrow history of manners in early America. It is an expansive and brilliant history of early America in manners. C. Dallett Hemphill has read more etiquette manuals and conduct books than anyone else ever has, and she has read them more vivifyingly besides. She has tantalizing and transformative things to say about patriarchy and privacy, about body-control and the emergence of the middle class, about mastery and self-ma
About C. Dallett Hemphill
C. Dallett Hemphill is Professor of History at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania.