Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation

5-2014

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Department

Anthropology

Degree Program

Anthropology, MA

Committee Chair

Haws, Jonathan A.

Committee Member

Hale, John

Committee Member

Stottman, Michael J.

Subject

Old Louisville (Louisville, Ky.)--History; Old Louisville (Louisville, Ky.)--Social life and customs; Dinners and dining--Kentucky--Louisville

Abstract

The late Victorian era (1876-1915) was a time of economic and social crisis as America entered into the industrial age. Multiple economic crises including three market crashes and resulting depressions placed a strain on the economic viability of the growing middle classes. The changing nature of middle class work also created a social crisis as professionals and entrepreneurs were forced into clerk and managerial positions within the government and corporations to maintain their middle class lifestyle. One of the ways that middle class families mitigated the social and economic crises was to participate in the practice of segmented dining. Segmented dining was a way that a family could emphasize its wealth, status, and gentility by investing during a highly ritualized multi-course meal structure. How a family navigated this complex ritual had an impact on how it was perceived by social peers and social elites that might participate. Using historical research about Victorian culture, economics, and society I attempt to show reasons why middle class families, both immigrants and native born, were engaging in segmented dining practices. In addition I utilize the artifact data generated from the Family Scholar House site to create an analysis scheme that shows the quantifiable presence of segmented dining practices within each of the households that could be linked to the archaeological record. I started this thesis with three questions based on the original results of the Family Scholar House investigations. First, does the ritual and display of the Victorian era reflect the struggle to maintain class position during a period of financial uncertainty? My research indicates that the answer to this question is "yes." The Victorian Era was dominated by a hegemony of excess. In order for the upper classes to maintain their domination of society they invested the middle classes into this hegemony by promoting values of display that were also linked to values of restraint and comportment. Second, given the economic turmoil of the period, how did the households living at the Family Scholar House site maintain their class position and identity? One of the principal ways they maintained their class position and identity was through social acts of display and segmented dining. The acts of display reinforced a families? social position by presenting the viewer with a tangible vision of wealth while the ritual dining experience demonstrated their social refinement. Third, were there differences between the strategies employed by the German and German Jewish immigrants and the native born dwellers of the neighborhood? The answer to this question is ambiguous. The different households did not appear to display any ethnicity in their maintenance of social status using display and ritual dining, based on the archaeological record. Any differences in social maintenance are probably linked to social contacts that are beyond the scope of archaeological investigations. So the answer is "no," based on the artifacts recovered from the site. I believe that I have developed several analytical tools that future archaeologists could use to discern segmented dining in other site assemblages and to answer the questions I posited above and new ones that data from new sites might suggest.

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