Making Home: Performance, Sociability, and Identity in St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1810-1860.
St. John’s, Newfoundland underwent an economic and cultural transformation in the early nineteenth century. With a growing year-round resident population, and mercantile operations increasingly headquartered out the town, St. John’s began to take on the appearance and infrastructure of a colonial town rather than a temporary summer fishing outpost. “Making Home” explores an emerging middle class’s attempts to change the town itself to reflect their values and ideals, and it charts the performances and expressions of identity that took place on the ground. The thesis examines how, in the years between 1810 and 1860, St. John’s rising middle class created a sense of space and place: how they thought of their local environment, and how they defined it in relation to the wider world. In short, how they made a home and how they saw themselves within that home. It does this by analyzing a selection of the events and sites that compelled people to move through the city: the activities of fraternal and benevolent clubs and societies, the cornerstone-laying and consecration ceremonies of cathedrals, various parades, and the wharfside ceremonies to greet visiting dignitaries. These were the moments during which people performed identities and created imagined communities of club, church, city, and colony, while simultaneously creating literal spaces for those communities by staking claim to city streets. The city’s geographic and economic location (deeply rooted in patterns of Atlantic trade, yet relatively isolated from other major centres by climate and geography) shaped many residents’ ongoing feelings about their home. As a case study of sociability and identity in a colonial setting, “Making Home” explores how both local and Atlantic contexts created a sense of place in a nineteenth-century port town.