Art & Art History ETDs


Shana Klein

Publication Date



The Fruits of Empire is a social and visual history of food in American art. With four fruit case-studies on representations of grapes, oranges, watermelons, and bananas, this project demonstrates how the visual culture of food provides a platform for examining the expansion and reconstruction of the United States in the decades following the Civil War. While chapters on grape and orange representations from California and Florida reveal the ways in which fruit serviced national expansion and the colonization of Americas fruit-lands, a chapter on watermelon imagery illustrates the racial stereotypes assigned to food that reinforced social divisions between white from 'colored' eaters. A final chapter on depictions of bananas investigates the exploitation of land and labor underwriting American fruit corporations in Central America. By directing attention to representations of fruit in the Sunbelt and broader Americas, this dissertation reorients the American Art History canon centered in the Northeast to art and artists in the country's borders. This project also widens the scope of American Art History by looking beyond the fine arts to the visual culture of cookbooks, crate labels, and silverware. Examining those who labored and prepared the fruits visible in artistic depictions sheds light on another overlooked subject. In the end, readers discover that representations of food in American art and culture are neither innocent nor straight forward, but politically-charged pictures driven by ideologies that support or challenge an imperial agenda in North America. By excavating the cultural histories of food in American art, The Fruits of Empire reveals how the cultivation of fruit in soil and on canvas participated in the cultivation of American empire.'

Project Sponsors

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Library Company of Philadelphia, Winterthur Library, American Antiquarian Society, Huntington Library, Henry Luce Foundation and American Council of Learned Societies



Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Zuromskis, Catherine

Second Committee Member

Pinder, Kymberly

Third Committee Member

Vester, Katharina


Fruit, Food, Empire, American Politics, Race, Power, Landscape, Still Life, American Art