American Patriots in England: the 2019 Mount Vernon Lecture: Zara Anishanslin (Univ. of Delaware, USA)

Date(s) - 20/06/2019
5:30 pm - 7:30 pm

King's College London

Patience Lovell Wright by Robert Edge Pine, c 1782, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.86.168.


Lecture Theatre 1, Bush House South Wing, King’s College London

Who do we think of when we think of ‘American patriots’ during the American War for Independence? What do we envision them doing to further their political cause? Where do we visualize them doing it? Chances are, most people picture an American white man writing a political pamphlet or leading a battle charge. And most likely, that white man is situated on the American side of the Atlantic, in one of the thirteen seaboard colonies that declared their independence in 1776. How different does this history look if, instead, we focus on pro-American patriots who were men of color, women, and Britons? What if these patriots live in England and enjoying royal patronage, no less? And what if they use art to further politics? This lecture moves the American War for Independence across the Atlantic to England, looking at three inter-connected, pro-American artists—Prince Demah, first identifiable enslaved American portrait painter, Robert Edge Pine, the British artist who trained him, and Patience Wright, American Quaker wax sculptor—narrating a transatlantic history of how supporters of the American cause used material and visual culture to spread ideologies, organize protest, wage war, and begin to build a new nation.

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Zara Anishanslin is a historian of Early American and Atlantic World History, with a focus on eighteenth-century material culture. She received her PhD in the History of American Civilization at the University of Delaware in 2009, where her dissertation won the prize for Best Dissertation in the Humanities.  In 2011, it also won the University of Pennsylvania’s Zuckerman National Prize in American Studies. In 2014-15, Anishanslin was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the New-York Historical Society. In 2009-2010, Anishanslin was the Patrick Henry Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at Johns Hopkins University. Additional fellowships include grants from the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, The Huntington Library, the American Antiquarian Society, Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center, The Library Company, Harvard Atlantic Seminar, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Henry Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies, and the Winterthur Museum.

Anshanslin’s first book, Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World (Yale University Press, 2016), saw her explore and refine debates about the cultural history of the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world. While most scholarship on commodities focuses either on labor and production or on consumption and use, Anishanslin unifies both, examining the worlds of four identifiable people who produced, wore, and represented this object: a London weaver, one of early modern Britain’s few women silk designers, a Philadelphia merchant’s wife, and a New England painter.  Blending macro and micro history with nuanced gender analysis, Anishanslin shows how making, buying, and using goods in the British Atlantic created an object-based community that tied its inhabitants together, while also allowing for different views of the Empire. Investigating a range of subjects including self-fashioning, identity, natural history, politics, and trade, Anishanslin makes major contributions both to the study of material culture and to our ongoing conversation about how to write history.

In 2018-19, Professor Anshanslin was the Mount Vernon Visiting Fellow in the Georgian Papers Programme at King’s College London.  The fellowship, funded by The Amanda and Greg Gregory Family Investment Fund, provides an opportunity for a scholar of the era of George Washington to work in the Royal Library and Archives at Windsor Castle, focusing on the papers of King George III, in order to cultivate fresh insights into the era.


Mount Vernon Estate, Mansion, eastern facade (2013)