PEAES Book Series

Buying into the World of Goods: Early Consumers in Backcountry Virginia, by Ann Smart Martin (Studies in Early American Economy and Society from the Library Company of Philadelphia, 2008).

Series Editor’s Foreward

ann Smart Martin - Buying into teh World of Goods

This volume in the Studies in Early American Economy and Society offers a distinctive perspective on the economic lives of very early North Americans.   Ann Smart Martin takes an extended interdisciplinary look at the storekeeping activities of one merchant in one North American locale, and reconstructs his extensive economic engagements with myriad people throughout regional and Atlantic markets who actively shaped the production, distribution, and consumption of seemingly disconnected goods in seemingly invisible relationships.  Martin methodological approach is eclectic, ably blending the approaches of art historians, material culture specialists, and social and economic historians in order to reach beyond many of our typical assumptions about what a country merchant and his customers did in North America’s early modern era.   She reconstructs not only one place in time, but the sweeping networks of buying and selling that shaped connections reaching outward across the Atlantic ocean and deeply into the colonial interior.  The exchanging and consuming world of her backcountry Virginia storekeeper was one of color and variety, active efforts to satisfy consumer choices, and intricate accounting for essential and exotic commodities.  Each chapter takes us further into the lives of ordinary Americans on the developing frontier by highlighting a particular object and analyzing its multifaceted meanings for farmers, housekeepers, and slaves who shopped at country stores.  Along the way, Martin challenges a number of our long-standing notions about how early Americans lived in a “world of goods” that carried meanings not only about credit and prices and the quality of material objects, but also about status, race, and gender in a rapidly changing frontier environment.

One of the core objectives of PEAES has been to advance the research about the early American economy that has been flourishing in recent years under the broadened umbrella of numerous disciplines, methodologies, and subjects.  Alongside this book series, PEAES brings together scholars and writers working on such areas as commerce, business, banking, technology, and material culture in its fellowship program, seminars, public outreach programs, conferences, published conference proceedings, and on-going acquisition of sources that are incorporated into the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Ann Smart Martin is the Stanley and Polly Stone Professor in the Art History Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches American decorative arts and material culture and currently heads the interdisciplinary material culture program.  Buying into the World of Goods: Early Consumers in Backcountry Virginia February 2008, 288 pp. Studies in Early American Economy and Society from the Library Company of Philadelphia. American History, $55.

Cathy Matson
University of Delaware and Director,
Program in Early American Economy and Society