, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 253-298

Emulation and Empowerment: Material, Social, and Economic Dynamics in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Virginia

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Abstract

The influence of emulative behavior on the material and socioeconomic transformations of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Anglo-American world is widely debated. A study of historical archaeological sites and probate inventories in Virginia implicates emulation as one ethic operative in rural communities but also identifies a second dynamic: a tendency for many planters of divergent means to act in step with one another, responding in similar ways to new circumstances. Here termed a “cultural accord,” this affinity enabled some individuals who occupied middling social positions to use emulation advantageously in ways that less privileged members of the population could not.