Contraband: Smuggling and the Birth of the American Century


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project investigates how the emerging American state regulated contact between its citizens and the world during the so-called Gilded Age. To feed consumer demand for foreign products, a brisk traffic developed in goods like silk, opium, tobacco, sugar, diamonds, and art in violation of strict trade laws. Americans enjoyed bargain priced contraband, but they worried about its effect on the nation’s character, and they empowered the customs to protect native workers, limit consumption, define the nation, and regulate new territorial possessions. This research uncovers America’s doubts about its new cosmopolitanism, its debates about the use of military force abroad, and its attempts to define a national identity in the face of changing demographic, racial, and sexual realities.