Paige Weaver

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Allison Marsh


The Reconstruction Era, a time of immense change in American culture and society, is often conceptualized as a wholly domestic affair; however, a closer analysis of the work of American diplomats scattered throughout the world reveals the impact of foreign policies and relationships on the development of the nation state, as well as cultural values. With this broadened perspective, Reconstruction becomes a more complicated period of entangled international concerns and influences in a globally connected world.

This thesis argues that intricate international relations and complex foreign policies helped shape American identity and values at home. Diplomats abroad in countries such as Japan, Italy, and Switzerland became extensively involved with silk, a commodity of particular significance in global commerce. Correspondence between diplomats stationed abroad and the Department of State is juxtaposed with material culture to serve as the main complimentary primary sources for this study. Objects such as silk dresses, vests and jackets, parasols, folding fans, and quilts, are examined in order to underscore some of the major themes of Reconstruction. Such matters include the rise of the nation state, industrialization, and the democratization of luxury goods that were once exclusive to the upper class. Therefore, the effects of foreign affairs on American material culture are reconsidered as quintessential to the advancement of the burgeoning nation state at home. This thesis ultimately contends that in order to highlight and fully understand the complexities of Reconstruction, it is essential to contextualize progress at home with the intricacies of diplomacy and gauge the formation of national identity through material culture.


© 2022, Paige Weaver