Book Review: Literary Bric-à-Brac and the Victorians: From Commodities to Oddities – Nineteenth-Century Studies

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My review of Jonathon Shears and Jen Harrison’s edited volume Literary Bric-à-Brac and the Victorians: From Commodities to Oddities is now up on the Nineteenth-Century Studies’ online forum, as part of a series of reviews of books on nineteenth-century materialities. See it here.

Lewis Walpole Library Research Travel Grant Report

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Thanks to a 2016-17 Travel Grant from the Lewis Walpole Library (taken in April 2017) I was able to conduct crucial primary research for two monograph projects: the first, which develops research from my PhD thesis to think about the social and emotional life of the home in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the second, my postdoctoral project, which is provisionally titled Collage before Modernism: Art, Intimacy and Identity in Britain and North America, 1700-1900. The book will be the first study to focus on the complex relationship between emotion, identity, and the production of collage during this period, and will explore how the asking how its creation reflected and constructed the interests, intimacies, and identities of its makers.

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Specifically, a Lewis Walpole Library Travel Grant enabled me to conduct research for chapters for each project, which variously examine the reception and production of Strawberry Hill in scrapbooks and extra-illustrated texts made within the circle of Horace Walpole, Anne Seymour Damer, and Mary and Agnes Berry; and the familial production of commonplace books and albums in the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries. For the first of these chapters, I consulted the notebooks, scrapbooks, and correspondence of Anne Seymour Damer, Mary Berry, Agnes Berry, and Horace Walpole, as well as a number of extra-illustrated volumes of Walpole’s A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole. Examining these manuscript volumes and published texts not only allowed me to unpack and trace the various relationships between this social group, but also to think about how these relationships were constructed and reflected in these collaged objects. I was also able to consult a range of supporting literature, such as the ‘Astley Collection of Strawberry Hill Pieces’, and the ‘Rarities from Strawberry Hill’, which allowed me to place these volumes within a broader context of literary and material production coming from, or centring on, Strawberry Hill. Visiting the library also gave me the chance to examine the famous Beauclerk Cabinet (1783-4), a fascinating piece of furniture, which, like the extra-illustrated copies of the Description, demonstrates how the very fabric of Strawberry Hill was shaped by collaborative and creative endeavour.

For the second of the chapters, I examined the library’s collections of albums and commonplace books, focusing on those that were familially produced, or which particularly pertained to the expression of emotion. The latter included LWL MSS Vol. 18, a manuscript collection of poems, elegies, verses on the subjects of solitude, death, and the nature of humanity, whose carefully selected inclusions will allow me to consider how commonplace books’ excerpted texts reflect and construct contemporaries’ emotional lives during this period. I also looked at the Library’s recent acquisition, LWL MSS Vol. 223, a boxed series of sixty-five manuscript notecards that functions like a commonplace book, bearing several hands and thereby attesting to the communal nature of its production.

I also spent time looking at the Library’s broader collection of commonplace books and albums. which allowed me to conduct important comparative research. Some of these were particularly revealing for thinking through some of the technologies of commonplacing during this period, especially in terms of how contemporaries themselves conceived of these practices. For example, Sir Henry Edward Bunbury’s commonplace book, ‘Omnium gatherum’, comprising original verse, extracts, costume, epigrams, bon mots, traits (LWL MSS File 81), features a highly reflexive, hand-drawn title page, depicting the collector of the volume’s inclusions standing over a pile of rocks labelled with words that evoke the manuscript’s contents.

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Spending time looking at these manuscripts in person was invaluable to my research, as it allowed me to explore issues of materiality, and to think about how these objects were constructed, viewed, and handled at the time that they were made. Going forward, I’ll spend time reviewing and reflecting upon the photographs and notes taken at the Library, researching the manuscripts’ various inclusions further and thinking about the volumes in relation to research conducted at other institutions, such as Yale Center for British Art. I’m hugely excited to utilise my findings as I finish my first book and continue the research into my second, and would like to thank the Lewis Walpole Library for making this research possible.

Award: IASH Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

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I’m thrilled to announce that from September 2017 until August 2018 I will be joining the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. The fellowship is ten months long, but includes a two-month interruption for my fellowships at the Huntington and the Harry Ransom Center. The fellowship will allow me to conduct research for my postdoctoral research project, Collage before Modernism: Art, Intimacy and Identity in Britain and North America, 1700-1900. I’ll post more about my time at IASH as I take up the Fellowship.

CFA: Making Masculinity: Craft, Gender, and Material Production in the Long Nineteenth Century, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies Special Issue

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CFA: Making Masculinity: Craft, Gender, and Material Production in the Long Nineteenth Century

Guest Editors:  Dr Katie Faulkner (The Courtauld Institute of Art and Arcadia University) Dr Freya Gowrley (University of Edinburgh)

This special issue of Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies will use ‘craft’ as a framework for understanding how various forms of masculinity were constructed and expressed during the long nineteenth century (1789-1914) in Britain and internationally.

Picture1Narratives focusing on the heroic male artist and privileging the ‘fine art’ over the ‘decorative’ emerged in the nineteenth century and were perpetuated by modernist writers and formalist art historians throughout the twentieth century. Yet the continuing preoccupation with the male genius and his masterpieces has been challenged by feminist interventions in art historical scholarship, often by reintroducing the significance of craft, and its female practitioners, into histories of material production. This endeavour has found a particular ally in material culture studies. Unburdened by art historical divisions between the fine and decorative arts, high art and craft, a substantial literature on the relationship between women and material culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has recently emerged (see for example Maureen Daly Goggin and Beth Fowkes Tobin’s four-part edited collection on Women and Things: Gendered Material Strategies, 1750-1950 (2009), Material Women, 1750-1950: Consuming Desires and Collecting Practices (2009), Women and the Material Culture of Needlework and Textiles, 1750-1950 (2009), and Women and the Material Culture of Death (2013)). Despite this historiographical richness, the figure of the male crafter is noticeably absent from the history of nineteenth-century art and culture, aside from notable exceptions associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, such as William Morris and Charles Robert Ashbee, and organisations like the Art Worker’s Guild.

Nevertheless, the ideas and practices of craft permeated the very fabric of everyday life in the nineteenth century. As a material category, craft encompasses a diverse range of objects, the production of which was central to a number of professional and personal masculine identities. Produced within or outside of the art academy or studio, made singly or collaboratively, and used to express both public and private selves, craft provides a compelling metaphor for thinking about how nineteenth-century masculinity was itself ‘made’. Focusing on objects and figures that have previously been overlooked within scholarship, the issue will reveal forgotten narratives and ignored identities, thereby providing an alternative material record of masculinity in the long nineteenth century.

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This interdisciplinary special issue will explore the material and metaphorical role of craft in constructing nineteenth-century masculinities, enriching an already vibrant secondary literature on gender and material culture. Potential topics might include, but are not limited to:

  • tensions between domestic practices and professional craftsmanship
  • collaboration and homosociability
  • craft and queer masculinities
  • craft and emotion
  • craft and recuperation
  • the arts and crafts movement
  • craft made by prisoners, soldiers, and sailors
  • craft as an elite hobby/craft as a labouring class pursuit
  • craft in the age of mechanical reproduction
  • craft and dress
  • craft as/and self-fashioning
  • craft as activism
  • the idea of masculinity as ‘crafted’

We encourage submissions of 5,000-8,000 words on any aspect of the relationship between masculinity and craft during the period 1789-1914. Submission guidelines for Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies are available here. Submissions that are accepted will be subject to blind peer-review. Deadline for completed manuscripts is 30th October 2017. Please send all manuscripts and queries/abstracts to makingmasculinity@gmail.com

Images: Rodolphe Christen, George Sim in His Workshop, Aberdeen, 1890, oil on canvas. Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums & J.M.W. Turner, An Artists’ Colourman’s Workshop, c. 1807, oil on wood. Tate.

Absent Presences at Strawberry Hill – thoughts from the Lewis Walpole Library

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It’s the first day of my two-week research visit to the Lewis Walpole Library, and I’ve just finished looking through the anonymous volume Rarities from Strawberry Hill, made sometime around the 1890s. The volume (essentially a scrapbook) once brought together letters from Walpole’s voluminous correspondence, printed portraits, clippings, playbills, bookplates (including the above example, Anne Damer’s, based on a design by her close friend Agnes Berry) a lock of hair, and even two miniature portraits, who are conspicuous in their absence from the volume, leaving two holes where they were once fitted (pictured below). Along with a number of other objects from the book – including various letters and the aforementioned lock of hair – the miniatures have been removed and preserved elsewhere: in the case of miniatures, these are now on display at Strawberry Hill itself, where they now tell a different narrative in a different setting.

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This dialogue of absence and presence, and how these states intersect with how we construct the history of the eighteenth century, reminded me of an earlier post I made here, regarding Strawberry Hill itself. When visiting the house last Summer, I bemoaned the absence of any kind of narrative regarding Walpole’s queerness, despite the prevalence of this within scholarship on Walpole and his friendships. I hope that the chapter I’m researching here (on Anne Damer’s inheritance of Strawberry Hill and queer heirlooming) at the Lewis Walpole Library can meaningfully contribute to these conversations, revealing some of those things that are sorely absent from the scholarship on Walpole.

Award – Harry Ransom Center Short Term Research Fellowship in the Humanities

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I’m thrilled to have been awarded a Harry Ransom Center Short Term Research Fellowship in the Humanities to conduct research on my postdoctoral research project on collage before modernism. The Harry Ransom Center has a wealth of collections relevant to the project, including the infamous (but rather unstudied) Durenstein! Blood Book, created by John Bingley Garland in 1854 and given to his daughter shortly after. The ‘Blood Book’ is just one object I’ll be looking at during my month-long research fellowship at the Center, which I’ll be taking in 2018.

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ECRS – 12 April

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Please join us for the next session of this year‘s Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar series at the University of Edinburgh. The session will present new work on eighteenth-century material culture and will feature Hannah Lund (University of Edinburgh) whose presentation is titled ‘Enthroned: The Sitter’s Chair of Sir Joshua Reynolds 1760-1879’, and Suchitra Choudhury (University of Glasgow), on ‘Fashion and Textiles: A Postcolonial Reading of Sir Walter Scott’.

All welcome. Seminars are held at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, from 4:30-6pm, and are followed by a drinks reception. 

You can also follow the series on its twitter account @ECRS_Edinburgh. We’ll be live-tweeting the papers from that handle.