Imprinted products: Domestic manufactures and nineteenth century American literature

Julie Beth Fifelski, Fordham University


"Imprinted Products" argues that the rise of domestic industry is crucial to the development of nineteenth-century American literature. Countering the assumption that Americans have always been able to produce everything they need, this research examines the nation's continuing ties to imported manufactures in the early 1800s, and moves forward to the end of the Civil War, when common goods were increasingly (but not entirely) manufactured domestically. The long manufacturing push that Americans initiated in the early and mid-1800s is an important subject for antebellum authors, whose concerns about both foreign and domestic manufactured goods pulse through their works. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Rebecca Harding Davis, Walt Whitman, and others actively engage with the problems and promises of American manufacturing in their texts. Their works, which are primarily addressed to a middle-class readership, consistently reveal a conflict, or tension, between two opposing ideals of self-sufficiency. The first is the self-sufficiency of the nation, in the form of economic solvency and political liberty; the second is that of the individual, underscored by the intellectual and bodily liberty resulting from material independence. Whereas most previous studies of nineteenth-century American manufacturing have focused on consumption and consumer behaviors, this refocuses attention on production and producer behaviors, a dynamic that was a vital concern for authors of literary texts. By analyzing the sites of production (household versus factory), as well as the methods of production (bodily versus mechanical), this work asks how and why things were made or imported, and how and why these products and processes are represented in popular texts.

Subject Area

Management|Economics|American literature

Recommended Citation

Fifelski, Julie Beth, "Imprinted products: Domestic manufactures and nineteenth century American literature" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3684555.