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Anna-Primrose Orchard

History, University of Nottingham

Thesis title:

The Material Soldier: Cultures of Consumerism and the GIs´┐Ż Search for Identity in Vietnam

By putting material objects such as personal radios, Zippo Lighters and uniforms into conversation with soldier’s letters, diaries and oral histories, this project explores soldiers’ relationship with consumerism within the microcosm of base camp culture. The Material Soldier will unpick the monolithic image of GIs, exhibiting how race, ethnicity and class influenced perceptions of personal identity, empire and the U.S. role in the world; as well as how these objects were negotiated. It contributes to Cold War historiography by detailing the intersections between military service, camp life and consumerism, providing new insights into soldier’s renegotiation of their masculinity through material objects.

The project will trace GIs’ exposure from the childhood connections they felt to toy weaponry in the “Consumers’ Republic” of the 1950s to the customisation of military-issued items in Vietnamese Base Camps. This research is the first project to elucidate the identity and beliefs of GIs through the objects they engaged with, offering new perspectives on military service, how America hoped to reshape life in Vietnam, American citizenship, transnational consumerism, as well as GI’s political and social views.

Research Area

  • American Studies
  • History