Final Public Oral Exam: Megan Armknecht

Diplomatic Households and the Foundations of U.S. Diplomacy, 1789–1870
Friday, September 29, 2023, 1:00 pm3:00 pm


Event Description


Sean Wilentz, adviser
Martha Sandweiss
Matthew Karp
Jay Sexton, University of Missouri


This dissertation examines variations of U.S. diplomatic households from 1789-1870. It analyzes five individual diplomatic households throughout this time period to argue that diplomatic households were integral to the system of U.S. diplomacy. Diplomatic households formed the hubs of U.S. diplomacy, especially before the professionalization of U.S. diplomacy in the twentieth century.

Although each chapter focuses on a different family representing the United States throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, common themes echo throughout their experiences. Each chapter looks at the ways U.S. diplomats functioned within diplomatic households, how the work of men, women, children, servants, and enslaved people was valued (or discounted) within the diplomatic household, how diplomats and their households navigated strengths and limitations of the structure of the diplomatic household in general (but also of their individual households), and how the structure of the household upheld the networks of U.S. diplomacy in the nineteenth century.

To make these claims, Diplomatic Households and the Foundations of U.S. Diplomacy uses sources from personal and state papers, both from archives in the United States and around the world. Analyzing these sources together juxtaposes personal and state concerns, information, and plans that came together in the diplomatic household. Reading state papers (both foreign and domestic) as well as personal papers helps complete a picture of how these diplomatic households worked, how they understood their work, and how foreign diplomats perceived them.

This dissertation makes historiographical interventions on at least two fronts: First, by establishing the concept of “diplomatic household” as a key concept for understanding how U.S. diplomacy functioned in the nineteenth century; and second, by providing a framework for analyzing gendered power relations in U.S. diplomacy through an intersectional analysis of gender, caregiving, work, and power. This dissertation also shows the ways the gendered power structure of the household shaped the structures of U.S. diplomatic professionalization in the years after the Civil War, and how interactions between men, women, and children shaped power structures and how diplomatic households produced (or failed to produce) trust and unique American spaces to legitimize American power and influence abroad.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam. Contact Lee Horinko for a copy of the dissertation and the Zoom meeting link and password.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Lee Horinko Reed
Area of Interest
Cultural History
Foreign Relations
Gender & Sexuality
Material Culture
Political History
19th Century
United States
Scholarly Series
Dissertation Defense