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Imperial splendor: Diamonds, commodity chains, and consumer culture in nineteenth-century Britain

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Title: Imperial splendor: Diamonds, commodity chains, and consumer culture in nineteenth-century Britain
Author(s): Kinsey, Danielle C.
Director of Research: Burton, Antoinette M.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Burton, Antoinette M.
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Hoganson, Kristin L.; Ballantyne, Tony J.; Rabin, Dana
Department / Program: History
Discipline: History
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Diamond history British imperial history consumption jewelry history diamond mining
Abstract: This dissertation examines the meaning of diamonds in imperial Britain in the nineteenth century and how Britain's involvement in diamond commodity chains across the century informed metropolitan consumers' conception of and desire for diamond jewelry. It argues that knowledge about the conditions of production in colonial spaces and supply to the metropole increased diamond appreciation and, ultimately, consumption of diamond jewelry by white, middling- and upper-class Britons. Though predicated upon a useless luxury commodity, when economic depression struck in 1873, the diamond market remained relatively buoyant, thus enabling the growth of production and distribution monopolies in southern Africa and Europe. This fairly consistent consumer demand occurred because, increasingly, diamonds were associated with the maintenance of imperialism and white privilege. To own and wear diamonds was to proclaim one’s cultural enfranchisement in late Victorian society on a global scale, not only in terms of class but gender and race ideology as well. Victorians knew about the rise of the De Beers monopoly, the brutal control the Company exercised over its workforce and the trade, and condoned it – thus, in a time of depression, the monopolization of the diamond market was an apparent guarantee to the “haves” that they need not find themselves in the “have-not” category in myriad ways. This work is based on a wide range of British newspapers and jewelry trade periodicals, particularly Jeweller and Metalworker, archival work done in the Birmingham City Archives on the Birmingham Jewellers’ and Silversmiths’ Association, the papers of Joseph Chamberlain (University of Birmingham) and Cecil Rhodes (Rhodes House, Oxford), the records of the East India Company (British Library), travelogues of Britons in Brazil, and records on aesthetics and natural history consulted at the Natural History Museum Archives and the Archive of Art and Design at the V&A Museum (London).
Issue Date: 2011-01-14
Rights Information: Copyright 2010 Danielle Christine Kinsey
Date Available in IDEALS: 2011-01-14
Date Deposited: December 2

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