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Shaping Culture and Identity in Nation and Empire

10:30-10:45 Max Abbott

      Maxwell Abbott is a doctoral student at West Virginia University with a focus in British Imperial and Kenyan history. His research has a specific focus on how sports were introduced as tools of imperialism in the British Empire but also how sports provided colonial subjects with the space and means to creatively challenge colonial hegemony. In this vein, his dissertation will examine the colonial sports network in Nyanza Province in western Kenya and how integration into this network ultimately allowed Kenyans from Nyanza to imagine themselves as part of the territorial and cultural nation of Kenya that emerged out of colonial society.
      Across their empire, systems of British sport began to take shape almost immediately after political control was established, and often well before, in the hands of missionaries and military men. In Kenya, sport was certainly a significant aspect of colonial society: by the mid-1920s, separate sports systems had emerged for the colony’s white, South Asian, and African sportsmen. “Imagining a Nation of Sports Fields” argues that despite their segregation, these systems overlapped significantly enough to form a “colonial sports network.” Similar to other colonial networks, the colonial sports network worked to integrate Africans into the colonial orbit and to maintain Africans’ subordinate position to the British colonial and South Asian classes of the colony. In the process, however, this network may have also formed an important element in the construction ofthe sort of national imagination necessary to fashion and realize the “imagined community.” This project shows that, at least for the Africans of Nyanza, Kenya’s westernmost province, the colonial sports network may have contributed to new senses of identity by facilitating the “looping” journeys of African athletes and spectators across and beyond the province, which, in turn, helped to create a sort of “mental map” of the colony. As Benedict Anderson suggests, this sort of mapping could help align the imagined community with the territorial boundaries and cultural geography of the colonial and (later) national states of Kenya by helping to discern where (and who) was (and was not)Kenyan. Therefore, the aim of this presentation is to show how the integration of Nyanza’s African populations into the colonial system through this sports network did, in some ways, work as intended by diffusing a certain “games ethic” and fostering new place loyalties. However, it will also show there is evidence to suggest that moving across the map of Kenyan playing fields, as an African athlete or spectator, could have provided the experiences and knowledge necessary to imagine themselves and “Kenya” in new ways by layering, rather than replacing, older identities and cultural practices with new ones adapted from the colonizer.

10:50-11:05 Jack Weaver

        Jack Weaver is a PhD. Candidate at West Virginia University. His dissertation examines the intersection of material culture, violence, and Early American identity by studying rifles, and riflemen in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with a focus on the American Revolution.
        At the outbreak of the American Revolution, riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia wore a distinct style of dress as a uniform, which incorporated three key features, which expressed an identity as North Americans. First, they decorated their hats with body parts from North American wildlife, notably the tails of white-tail deer. Second, they wore the hunting shirt, a garment developed by colonists living on the Appalachian frontier. Third, they wore some elements of Native American dress, most notably leggings and occasionally a breechclout, or loincloth. Colonists adopted these items of material culture in the decades prior to the American Revolution for different reasons, some practical, some symoblic, but each contributed to a ensemble of material culture that emerged in the 1770s, and expressed an identity associated with North America prior to the independence of the United States.

11:10-11:25 Bobby Novak, "“You have heard not a little about ‘shoddy’”: Identifying the Shoddy Contractor in the American Civil War"

      Bobby is a PhD Candidate in History at West Virginia University. His research interests include material culture, American capitalism, American cultural history, and the American Civil War. His dissertation is a material culture study of shoddy, a woolen additive in clothing, and it's impact on the United States in the Civil War Era.
      When the American Civil War began in April 1861, it was obvious to the Federal Quartermaster Department that they would be unable to supply Northern volunteers on their own. To supplement their production, the Quartermaster Department turned to a long-standing tradition of providing contracts to private businesses to produce the necessary supplies. While the department strove to maintain high quality standards, the contractor-made goods, particularly in the early months of the war, were far from superior.
      Within this process, Americans learned about a substance called shoddy which spoke to their deepest fears of corruption and fraud. A woolen additive, shoddy was made from the shredded scraps of old and cast-off woolen rags which could be mixed with virgin woolen fibers to create a blend. However, the shredding process weakened the structure of the cloth and made it more susceptible to fraying or damage. When early contracts in New York and Pennsylvania left soldiers’ clothes in tatters, Americans learned that shoddy was included in the fabric and surmised that it was used to increase profits by contractors at the expense of soldier health and comfort. Such “shoddy contractors” were dangerous, Americans concluded, and everyone should seek to identify them in their communities.
      The moniker of “shoddy contractor” was a powerful social and cultural tool that allowed Americans to police boundaries within their societies – shoddy was a tool to identify fraud and quality both in objects and in people. Often depicted as immigrants or sleazy confidence men, “The Shoddies” became a character all their own in American media. Increasingly, women were targeted for their lavish spending and were contrasted against the suffering soldier’s wife struggling to survive as her husband sacrificed for the good of the nation. Regardless of its veracity, the “shoddy contractor” was an identity placed upon people that Civil War Americans believed were dangerous profiteers who threatened the future of the United States.