Date of Award

2009

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor

Nathan Godfried

Second Committee Member

Howard Segal

Third Committee Member

Jay Bregman

Abstract

During the nineteenth century, as the citizens of the United States strove to establish their own sense of national and cultural identity, the architectural styles from earlier phases in human history became increasingly popular. Known largely as architectural eclecticism or architectural revivalism, Americans throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic states in particular drew inspiration from disparate civilizations, and constructed buildings and monuments that reflected the earlier achievements of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Medieval Europe. Taken together, the popularity of these styles in both public and private architectural expressions indicate a widespread effort on the part of the American citizenry to define the place of their own society within the chronology of western history, while at the same time establish a symbolic cultural language in which the national identity of the United States derived its greatness - in the present and future - from the past. The Egyptian Revival, a style that middle and upper class Americans adopted primarily for commemorative activities, was an integral component to this broader trend throughout the nineteenth century. Generally regarded by historians and art historians as a minor expression of architectural revivalism - as an aberration from the more popular Greek and Gothic revivals - the significance of the Egyptian Revival to Americans' efforts to establish their cultural identity has largely been dismissed. This dissertation argues that the Egyptian Revival became embedded in nineteenth century American commemorative culture as part of the broader effort by Americans to establish an identity for themselves and their country based on an ancient, usable past. Egyptian Revival architecture appeared as early as the 1790s with roots in the Neoclassicism of the English gardens. Following the Napoleonic campaigns in Egypt, the styles invoked during the nineteenth century hearkened to the timeless age of the pharaohs and the pyramids. It was primarily because the monuments and structures of Egypt evoked the sense of timelessness, eternity and technological superiority that the Egyptian Revival shaped American commemorative culture. Whether the monuments and structures built by Americans were intended to memorialize the soldiery of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, to welcome the living into the land of the dead in the form of rural cemetery entrance gates, or to mark the burials of the new urban industrial elite, there were unequivocal associations between the development of the ways Americans memorialized their dead and their intentions - similar to the Egyptians - that their commemorative efforts would last in perpetuity.

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