Between 'Poetry and Pathos': oriental rugs in America during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Scoti, Bianca (2019) Between 'Poetry and Pathos': oriental rugs in America during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.
Printed Thesis Information:


Of all the types of floor coverings, oriental rugs, particularly those originating from Iran, have been a source of fascination for centuries. My thesis explores these objects as material manifestations of middle-class identity in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Arbiters of taste, authors of domestic advice and merchants emphasised good hygiene, business sense, etiquette, refinement, domesticity, the importance of interior décor and comfort, as markers of middle-class life. By focusing on hygiene, luxury, investment, and comfort as separate case studies, I investigate how discourses on home décor and commercial distribution circulated oriental rugs to consumers of more modest means. Advertisements, trade reports, women’s periodicals and art journals, portrayed them as objects that brought together and gave material form to these, at times conflicting, sets of values.

Until the late nineteenth century, oriental rugs were associated with the elites. Since at least the Middle Ages, they had been symbols of opulence and high status, as documented by numerous paintings in which they conveyed the affluence and authority of the rulers and wealthy personalities depicted. However, from the second half of the nineteenth century, the development of Western industrialisation, the growing purchasing power of wider sections of society, market conditions and changing geo-political circumstances in the Middle East, transformed production and the nature of trade between this region and the West. Factories manufactured rugs in less time and with inexpensive materials to supply the growing demand from Europe and the United States. Parallel to the international trade, a market opened in the United States for American-made floor coverings that imitated oriental designs.

The dissemination of oriental rugs illustrates how material goods shaped middle-class identity within the cultural and economic context of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Oriental rugs also offer insight into the ways in which the United States negotiated its place in the world as they embodied America’s belief in its cultural and economic superiority. Indeed, the fascination with these artefacts and their popularity did not translate into a corresponding appreciation for the civilisations that manufactured them. Discourse and advertisements illuminate this aspect when advocating the purchase of American imitations. Thus, ‘oriental rugs’ came to encompass both the genuine imports and the American-made ones, both the hand-knotted and the machine-made rugs. The fluidity of the term encapsulates the aspirations of middle-class Americans as a community distinct from both the elites and the working class; but simultaneously, oriental rugs also manifest America’s national ambitions on the world stage at the turn of the twentieth century.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright issues the electronic version of this thesis is not available for viewing. An edited version will be uploaded after the embargo period has expired.
Keywords: oriental rugs, domestic decor, American middle class, Gilded Age, Progressive era, dissemination of middle class values, material culture, consumption and American imperialism
Subjects: E History America > E151 United States (General)
F History United States, Canada, Latin America > F001 United States local history
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Moskowitz, Professor Marina and Wieber, Doctor Sabine
Date of Award: 2019
Embargo Date: 1 November 2024
Depositing User: Ms Bianca Scoti
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-75158
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 06 Nov 2019 13:46
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2023 09:41
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.75158

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item