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In the Looking Glass

Mirrors and Identity in Early America

Rebecca K. Shrum

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How mirrors shaped human identity in North America from the earliest European explorations.

What did it mean, Rebecca K. Shrum asks, for people—long-accustomed to associating reflective surfaces with ritual and magic—to became as familiar with how they looked as they were with the appearance of other people? Fragmentary histories tantalize us with how early Americans—people of Native, European, and African descent—interacted with mirrors.

Shrum argues that mirrors became objects through which white men asserted their claims to modernity, emphasizing mirrors as fulcrums of truth that enabled…

How mirrors shaped human identity in North America from the earliest European explorations.

What did it mean, Rebecca K. Shrum asks, for people—long-accustomed to associating reflective surfaces with ritual and magic—to became as familiar with how they looked as they were with the appearance of other people? Fragmentary histories tantalize us with how early Americans—people of Native, European, and African descent—interacted with mirrors.

Shrum argues that mirrors became objects through which white men asserted their claims to modernity, emphasizing mirrors as fulcrums of truth that enabled them to know and master themselves and their world. In claiming that mirrors revealed and substantiated their own enlightenment and rationality, white men sought to differentiate how they used mirrors from not only white women but also from Native Americans and African Americans, who had long claimed ownership of and the right to determine the meaning of mirrors for themselves. Mirrors thus played an important role in the construction of early American racial and gender hierarchies.

Drawing from archival research, as well as archaeological studies, probate inventories, trade records, and visual sources, Shrum also assesses extant mirrors in museum collections through a material culture lens. Focusing on how mirrors were acquired in America and by whom, as well as the profound influence mirrors had, both individually and collectively, on the groups that embraced them, In the Looking Glass is a piece of innovative textual and visual scholarship.

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In the Looking Glass

Rebecca K. Shrum

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Reviews

A superb reflection of the many meanings held by an object usually taken for granted. Highly recommended.

Shrum's work is required reading for upcoming scholars who are attempting to trace the social life of things in the formation of American identities.

In the Looking Glass: Mirrors and Identity in Early America is an important contribution to the fields of early American history, material culture studies, and cultural and American studies. Shrum's study will help scholars recognize how the study of records and other historical evidence, in highlighting the silence of certain groups of people, also enables us to see what forces determined those silences.

Shrum's accomplishment is to tease out the many meanings that made looking glasses among the most widely owned and used consumer good in early America.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
232
ISBN
9781421423128
Illustration Description
52 halftones, 1 line drawing
Table of Contents

Introduction
1. The Evolving Technology of the Looking Glass
2. First Glimpses
3. Looking-Glass Ownership in Early America
4. Reliable Mirrors and Troubling Visions
5. Fashioning Whiteness
6. Mirrors in

Introduction
1. The Evolving Technology of the Looking Glass
2. First Glimpses
3. Looking-Glass Ownership in Early America
4. Reliable Mirrors and Troubling Visions
5. Fashioning Whiteness
6. Mirrors in Black and Red
Epilogue
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Rebecca K. Shrum

Rebecca K. Shrum is an assistant professor of history and the assistant director of the public history program at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.