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date: 02 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Artifacts have long been markers of wealth, status, self-identity, or taste. As a result, most studies of social distinction in British and American material culture have tended to focus upon the consumption/possession perspective. To explore the production side of material culture distinction, this chapter focuses upon furniture history, examining the structures of furniture making in colonial British society. Comparative exploration of America in the eighteenth century, India in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and Australia in the early nineteenth century provides a sense of how the social structure of production operated, how it affected the look of the objects, and how it has continued to influence contemporary understanding of these objects. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the backgrounds of cabinetmakers had a direct impact on the possibilities of their work and prospects. These period distinctions have subsequently fostered a different sort of distinction today wherein the skills and legacy of nonwhite and convict cabinetmakers, the artisanal “other” in the British Empire, continue to be undervalued or ignored. Beautiful collected objects often distract us from the analysis of the systems of their production or an ethical critique of those systems.

Keywords: colonial America, colonial India, colonial Australia, low technology, family dynasty, merchant producer, indentured servant, skilled slave, caste, convict

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