Progress through Preservation: History on the American Landscape in an Age of Improvement, 1785-1860

Martinko, Whitney Anne, Department of History, University of Virginia
Onuf, Peter, Department of History, University of Virginia
Varon, Elizabeth, Department of History, University of Virginia
Zunz, Olivier, Department of History, University of Virginia
Edelson, Scott, Department of History, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

This study reconsiders the meaning of what nineteenth-century Americans termed the "preservation of history" by studying their careful attention to historic landscape features in a rapidly changing environment. Though scholars generally claim that early Americans ignored or discarded old features as they improved and expanded the nation, this study reveals that individuals of varying ethnicities, social statuses, and geographic origins preserved evidence of the past that they saw in the built environment. It draws on a diverse body of evidence, including paintings, relics, daguerreotypes, diaries, and popular print culture, to trace the ways that early Americans developed various, and often conflicting, meanings and methods of preservation. When early Americans characterized preservation as a means of fostering the national commonweal, they simultaneously made preservation a strategy for pursuing individual profit and promoting contentious agendas for improvement. By examining the various ways that individuals deployed preservation to these ends, this study shows how Americans constructed a common historical consciousness grounded in continuous change and progressive development of the nation, not simply in the memory of specific founders or events.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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