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Posts tagged ‘material culture’

The It-Narrative as Material Culture Methodology: Practical Applications for Historians

By Kerry Love (@kerrymlove)

A popular novel format in the eighteenth century was the ‘it-narrative,’ or ‘novel of circulation,’ whereby the story was told by an inanimate object, such as a coin, quill or a coach, or an animal such as a pet dog, in first person. Their treatment in literary studies has been covered by Mark Blackwell and others, but I would suggest that the it-narrative holds worth in other disciplines beyond literature, such as material culture history or museum studies. [1]

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Doing History in Public 2020 Year in Review

By Zoë Jackson (@ZoeMJackson1) & Evelyn Strope (@emstrope)

This New Year’s Eve, we look back at 2020, a year many have described as ‘unprecedented’. The coronavirus spread around the world from the start of the year, and the ensuing pandemic and resulting lockdowns have completely altered life as we knew it.

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20. An Icelandic Executioner’s Axe

By Stephanie Brown (@StephEmmaBrown)

This axe can now be found at the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik. It was used on 12 January 1830, to execute Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a maid, and Friðrik Sigurðsson, a farmhand, for their role in the murders of ‘womanizer’, Natan Ketilsson, and Pétur Jónsson, an unfortunate bystanding victim. The crime took place in 1828 at Natan’s farm, Illugastaðir, where they lived and worked.[1] This was the last execution to be carried out on Icelandic soil. Although, Iceland did not abolish capital punishment until 1928.[2]

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18. Vigani’s Cabinet

By Xinyi Wen (@HPSWarburgian)

Red, umber, carmine, massicot yellow, ultramarine… in a 15×15 inches humble drawer, 63 kinds of pigments constituted a vibrant, colourful world. Each pigment was held in a labelled paper box lining inside the wooden grid, indicating these ingredients’ mobility and their flexibility of spatial arrangement. This drawer, together with other 28 counterparts of seeds, stones, fruits, roots, and animal parts, made up the cabinet of John Francis Vigani (c. 1650–1712), the first Professor of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge.

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11. A Knotted Cord

By Nico Bell-Romero (@NicoBellRomero)

Receiving a knotted cord – a strand made from yucca leaves – might seem like a strange gift for Christmas, but in August 1680, during their revolt against the Spanish, the Pueblo peoples of present-day Mexico placed great importance on them.

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10. Old Sheffield Plate Toaster

By Meg Roberts (@megeroberts)

Fancy some Regency-era cheese on toast? By the late eighteenth century, cheese toasters were all the rage among the British upper classes. The six removable trays in this particular toaster from the period could each hold a small slice of toast or bread, topped with cheese. To make the toast, hot water would first be poured into an opening in the stem of the handle until it filled the container underneath the six trays. As the heat quickly permeated the silver plate and copper interior (both excellent heat conductors), it would simultaneously melt the cheese and keep the toast warm. 

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Knitting the Archives

If you walk into any charity shop, you are more than likely to find, somewhere, a box or folder full of old knitting patterns. The majority of people would overlook these – to those that cannot knit, the sheets look like indecipherable code, but even to those that can, the patterns are considered dated. But these publications are an archive of everyday material culture of their own, which merit engagement.

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Art in the Time of Coronavirus

By Zara Kesterton (@ZaraKesterton)

15 March 2020: we were beginning to realise just how much of an impact the coronavirus pandemic would have on all our lives. One of my friends messaged a group chat, ‘Now that we aren’t allowed to touch anything ever again does it spell the end of material culture? Is the new textual turn approaching?’ Read more

5. Victorian Hair Jewellery

By Maggie Kalenak

Either encased under glass in brooches, lockets and hair accessories or woven with wire to create three-dimensional ornaments and chains, the use of hair in sentimental jewellery was a fixture of British fashion from the 17th century through the end of the 19th, reaching its height in popularity between 1810 and 1850. Representing the Romantic fashion for the sentimental, in 1854 Wilkie Collins wrote that hair jewellery, was, “in England, one of the commonest ornaments of women’s wear.”[1] Hair, especially women’s hair, was largely fetishised and commoditised in the 19th century.  Being worth its weight in silver for most of the century, hair was an outward symbol of class, gender, taste and sensuality. The exchange of hair between lovers, friends and family members represented the most intimate of relationships. The wearing of hair became an expression of love and being loved. Hair was used in both romantic jewellery (exchanged between sweethearts) and mourning jewellery which would be created from the hair of the dead and worn by friends and family in remembrance. An iconic example— after the death of Prince Albert in 1839, Queen Victoria was never again without a lock of her beloved’s hair on her person. The creation of hair jewellery was both a skill worked by women in their homes and also, by the mid-19th century, a commercial industry.

Image: Photograph by Maggie Kalenak

References:

[1] Wilkie Collins, Hide and Seek (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 256. First published in 1854.

Critiquing cultural spaces: an interview with Alice Procter of the Uncomfortable Art Tours

By Alice Procter (@aaprocter) and  Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)

Alice Procter is a historian of material culture based at UCL. She has six years of tour guiding experience at heritage sites and galleries and runs Uncomfortable Art Tours, podcasts and writes under the umbrella of The Exhibitionist. I had the chance to interview you her about her work and to discuss how her tours fit into wider critiques of national history, spaces and narratives.

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2. A Renaissance Mirror

By Zoe Farrell (@zoeffarrell)

In an age before electrical lighting, in cramped cities with few sources of natural light, mirrors acted as a tool to bring light into homes. They were also decorative, placed alongside paintings to accentuate the splendour of ordinary domestic environments.[1] Venice, and particularly Murano, became the centre of European mirror production during the Renaissance, with Venetian mirrors earning their fame both for their technical innovation and their beauty.

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Bagging a bargain in the Renaissance: questions surrounding the ethics of shopping and consumption

By Zoe Farrell (@zoeffarrell)

In recent rhetoric, the ‘rise’ of consumerism has been challenged. Our throw-away culture has led to a multitude of problems for the environment, as well as issues surrounding body-image, debt and over-corporatisation. In a recent article, George Monbiot, for example, argued that ‘regardless of what we consume, the sheer volume of consumption is overwhelming the Earth’s living systems’. Whilst the scale of this problem and its issues are in many ways unique to our age, questions surrounding the ethics of consumerism are certainly not new and our passion for acquisition is one which has its roots deep in the past.

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