Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Alan Wallach


This paper examines the content of eighteenth-century American and British portraits within the ideologically-expanding context of eighteenth-century British identity. It explores the ways in which Britons and Americans negotiated who they were and, consequently, their claims on society, in the era preceding and including the American Revolution. It does so for three reasons: to advance a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of American portraiture; to motivate further dialogue on the relationship between American and British portraits; and to invoke the potential for American portraits as documentary evidence of social history.;Through historical examination of philosophical influences informing the development of British narratives, Part One considers the contexts within which portraits were produced and the implications of those contexts for the interpretation and presentation of identity. Against this ideological backdrop, Part Two deconstructs the content of selected portraits by John Singleton Copley, Charles Willson Peale, Ralph Earl, William Hogarth, Allan Ramsay, Sir Joshua Reynolds and others in order to come to terms with contemporary perceptions of reality and identity vis-a-vis the dominant narrative.;Broadly speaking, American Revolutionary portraits suggest a standard for identity based on principles drawn from conflicting narratives. This standard intimates an effort to conflate the principal ideals of a dominant neo-Country narrative---those of natural progress, potentiality and virtue, for example---with Liberal and Reformed notions of autonomy, self-determination and industry that denied the doctrines of hierarchy, fixity and birth upon which the traditional ideals were said to depend. The results signaled a gap between British ideology and colonial experience visually manifest as conflicting perceptions of reality. Implicated in these conflicting perceptions was an alternative meaning of life whose suppression may have led, in the end, to revolution.



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