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The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities
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The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  99 ratings  ·  11 reviews
This lively and authoritative volume makes clear that the quest for taste and manners in America has been essential to the serious pursuit of a democratic culture. Spanning the material world from mansions and silverware to etiquette books, city planning, and sentimental novels, Richard L. Bushman shows how a set of values originating in aristocratic court culture graduall ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published August 31st 1993 by Vintage (first published 1992)
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Horace Bushnell, a congregationalist minister, was one of the people who attempted to resolve some of the contradictions between belief in a republican form of government and an emulation of the gentility handed down from european monarchies. I found this interesting:

"The creation of human taste, he went on to say with astounding confidence, were extensions of the original divine creative act. 'Architecture, gardening , music, dress, chaste and elegant manners- all inventions of human taste- are
I enjoyed this one so much that I chose to apply Bushman's main thesis to the settlement of Maine for one of my final papers. Granted, this is pretty dense, and not every chapter is enthralling all the way through. The wealth of information Bushman packs into this thing, though, is pretty impressive. I don't see how he could cover anything else, he gets to: fancy houses in eighteenth century Delaware, courtesy books, grand staircases and gardens, the fancifying of the old stodgy New England meet ...more
David Bates
In his 1992 work The Refinement of America Richard Bushman proposes that an aristocratic culture of gentility shaped early American society and capitalism. Drawing on the material culture of 18th and 19th century American city planning, architecture, fashions and luxury objects Bushman traces its progressive diffusion from the colonial elite into the middle class of the early republic. From its inception in the styles of the aristocratic courts that clustered around centralizing monarchs in the ...more
Sam Newton
American colonists had an "obsessive desire to achieve gentility." They tried to refine themselves and be British.

• Why did the parlor become so important?
• Wealthy families built mansions, European goods, mastering polite behavior, handwriting, body, speech, dress. “Obsessive desire to achieve gentility”
• Americans used to be functional, in two room houses. Now they're in mansions, parlors, etc.
• Social life was an unrelenting performance. Big parlors, grand staircases, balls, concerts
• The low
Theresa Rothschadl
This book has profoundly changed the way I think about material culture, both as a former museum professional and as a current thinking person. Turns out beautiful things aren't just aesthetic pleasures--they're also tools for domination.
A very entertaining book that goes into a lot of interesting depth about the role manners and material culture played among ambitious Americans in the colonial period. It also makes strong connections to how many of these objects/styles/modes of thought derived from European practices. It's not as strong in talking about political and social context in America, in distinguishing different regions, or in mixing its analysis with a more overt discussion of women, African-Americans, or Native Ameri ...more
I learned a lot about the culture of the American elite through the mid-19th century, and how that is reflected in their possessions, houses, and city development. However, it is a very academic book. The first two chapters were a difficult introduction, if you are unfamiliar with the topic, but once you "get" them, you "get" the book. Later chapters get repetitive.
Interesting book about the changing of early log cabin, plain living America to the emergence of a separate wealthier class who built grand homes and lived more refined lives during the late 1700's and early 1800's.
An excellent commentary about Americans, their bewildering array of stuff, and what it all meant.
One of my all time favorites...18th century America, houses, I love them all!
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Richard Bushman published widely in early American social and cultural history before completing his biography, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Among his books were From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765 and The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities. He teaches courses on Mormonism in its broad social and cultural context and on the history of ...more
More about Richard L. Bushman...
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author's Diary Believing History: Latter-Day Saint Essays

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