The US-China Trade: Capitalism, Consumption and Consumer Identity

Author: Claire P. Dappert

Dappert, Claire P., 2009 The US-China Trade: Capitalism, Consumption and Consumer Identity, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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Since the fifteenth century the rise of capitalism and the expansion of global trade networks have ensured that a wide range of consumer goods has become available to people from all walks of life. Paralleling these developments, our attitudes and beliefs about consumer goods have also changed: goods that were once considered luxuries have become commonplace in domestic households. This study celebrates the diversity of this material culture and the variety of symbolic meanings people attach to it. The US – China trade, as a facet of the Spice Trade, is inextricably linked to the development of capitalism and long-distance shipping that ensured the movement of consumer goods to markets around the world. Inevitably, many of these ships sank and archaeologically their cargoes and the artifacts associated with their crew provide an opportunity to glimpse the development of our modern world. This thesis uses the shipwreck Frolic (1850) as a case study to discuss how those involved in, and those who were supplied through, this trade used a range of consumer goods to construct distinct identities for themselves and those around them. This study also draws on a wide variety of source material, including material culture (museum collections and archaeological assemblages), images and documentary sources (courtesy literature and newspapers) to paint a broader picture of the US – China trade and consumer society than any one source is capable of doing itself. This study ultimately argues that the range in consumer goods associated with the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century US – China trade is symptomatic of the increasing complexity of consumer markets able to facilitate the establishment and maintenance of a wide array of consumer identities, necessary under the many new social, economic and ideological relationships constructed under capitalism.

Keywords: historical archaeology,maritime archaeology,material culture,capitalism,consumption,consumer identity,Frolic,US-China Trade,Spice Trade

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2009
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Mark Staniforth