Foreign Imports: Irish Immigrants And Material Networks In Early New Orleans, 1780-1820
Traditionally, academic narratives on Irish immigration to the Americas have focused on experiences of dislocation caused by changes in geography. Settlers, they argue, clung to Old World identities, adapted to new cultural habits or mixed the two. This dissertation explores the social and cultural transitions of Irish immigrants who arrived in New Orleans between 1780 and 1820, or during the cityâ€™s late Spanish colonial and early national period. Employing an object-focused perspective, it shows that these persons inhabited a transoceanic setting that linked Ireland and the Gulf Coast together in their shared investments in commerce and conscious consumerism. This resulted in a significant overlap between travelersâ€™ Old and New World lives, and it suggests a new migratory model focused on continuity across the Atlantic Ocean. Referencing the examples of foods, linens and enslaved persons, this dissertation shows that Irishmen and women had ample contact with the non-local, even before they moved overseas. This prepared them, in many ways, for their lives abroad. Some goods, like the South American potato, were so ingrained in island culture by the late 1700s that consumers forgot its foreign provenance. Others, like textiles, had values that changed between Ireland and Louisiana. The example of slaveholding, in particular, points to the ways that immigrants encountered human-commodities common to their visual culture but unrecognizable in practice. The many Irish immigrants who became slave-owners, ultimately, adapted material languages concerning wealth and status they brought from Europe to these new consumerism. They thus made sense of the exotic in familiar terms. By examining the growth of commercial webs and the market availabilities of early New Orleans, this project offers an intimate look at experiences of movement, materiality and cosmopolitanism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.