Jennifer Anderson Lecture on Mahogany in the 18th Century
In the mid-eighteenth century, colonial Americans became enamored with the rich colors and silky surface of mahogany. This exotic wood, imported from the West Indies and Central America, quickly displaced local furniture woods as the height of fashion. Over the next century, consumer demand for mahogany set in motion elaborate schemes to secure the trees and transform their logs into exquisite objects. But beneath the polished gleam of this furniture lies a darker, hidden story of human and environmental exploitation.
Highlighting Rhode Island’s ties to the 18th century mahogany trade, Jennifer Anderson offers a dynamic portrait of the many players, locales, and motivations that drove the voracious quest for mahogany to adorn American parlors and dining rooms. This complex story reveals the cultural, economic, and environmental costs of America’s growing self-confidence and prosperity, and how desire shaped not just people’s lives but the natural world.
Jennifer L. Anderson is an Associate Professor of History at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Anderson received her Ph.D. from New York University in 2007. Her book, Mahogany, is based on her dissertation, which which won the Society of American Historians’ Nevins Prize for Best-Written Dissertation.
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