Fabricating the “Southern Belle”: Assessing the Role of Imported Material Culture in the Confederacy

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Abstract

Confederate society was dependent on a rigidly defined hierarchy that assigned roles and appropriate behavior based on race, gender, and wealth. White, wealthy, southern women were dependent on material culture as a socially acceptable means of self-fashioning and making their status public. The Union naval blockade threatened this practice by preventing Confederate markets from accessing imported, status-affirming goods. The industry of blockade running rose to fill this need, often controversially prioritizing cargo space for civilian, luxury products over necessities for the military. This article examines the artifact assemblages of blockade runner sites off the coasts of Wilmington, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina through a theoretical framework of agency and costly signaling to make assessments about Confederate identity during the Civil War.

Keywords

Gender Material culture Civil War Naval blockade Costly signaling Agency 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The author would first like to thank Dr. Lynn Harris of East Carolina University who served as committee chair for the thesis from which this article originated. Martha Zierden of the Charleston Museum was a wonderful resource for all questions regarding material culture of the South Carolina Lowcountry. The archaeologists of the NCUAB and SCIAA provided open access to their blockade runner collections and files, which was greatly appreciated. Finally, many thanks to my family, friends, and colleagues, as well as the three anonymous peer reviewers, for their editorial assistance and feedback.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Warren Lasch Conservation CenterClemson UniversityNorth CharlestonUSA

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