Research Trips

Design History Society Research Travel Grant Report – The British Library & Strawberry Hill

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Thanks to a 2016 Research Travel Grant from the Design History Society, I was able to conduct crucial primary research for the completion of my monograph, which is provisionally titled Home Ties: Materiality, Sociability and Emotion in British Domestic Space, 1750-1840. It is the first study to focus on the complex relationship between emotion, identity, and the material culture of the home during this period, exploring how the decoration of domestic space allowed contemporaries to express themselves, to show affection to their loved ones, and to construct the homes in which they lived.

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Specifically, a Design History Society Research Travel Grant enabled me to conduct research for three of the book’s chapters, which examine descriptions of interior design in the travel writing of Caroline Lybbe Powys, reputation management and the interiors of John Wilkes’s retirement cottage on the Isle of Wight, and Anne Seymour Damer’s inheritance of Horace Walpole’s Gothic revival home, Strawberry Hill, in turn. At the British Library, I consulted the papers, journals, and correspondence of Caroline Lybbe Powys, Anne Seymour Damer, and John Wilkes, whilst at the Royal College of Surgeons, and the Wellcome Library, I viewed the correspondence of Mary Berry, a close friend of Damer and Walpole. I discovered many exciting finds in archives, including a number of previously unknown portraits, as well as a recipe for shellwork cement shared between friends, highlighting the collaborative nature of such craft practices. I also read many letters describing key elements of the interiors of Walpole and Damer’s homes, which I will continue to think about during my forthcoming research trip to Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library, where I’ll also be investigating the relationship between the two figures.

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The Grant also allowed me to visit Strawberry Hill itself, which has been the subject of a sensitive restoration and was reopened to the public in 2010. Being able to walk through the spaces so lovingly described by its owners and viewers was immensely important and highly evocative, particularly for a project concerned with issues of emotion and experience. The visit also revealed that despite the importance of Damer and Walpole’s relationship, the narratives of queer inheritance and ownership that are at the heart of my book chapter are entirely absent from Strawberry Hill’s current public presentation.

I’m excited to utilise this archival research in my forthcoming monograph, and would like to thank the Design History Society, the British Library, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Wellcome Library for making this research possible.

N.B. A version of this post will also appear on the Design History Society blog.

Looking Forward to 2017

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Inspired by a number of reflective end-of-year blog posts (including this and this) I thought I’d map out my aims and activities for 2017. If you’d like to gain a sense of what I achieved in 2016, you can check out my series on being a year post-phd here, here, and here.

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Yale Center for British Art

As always seems to be the case, 2017 is shaping up to be a very busy year.

In January, I’m primarily working on editing my PhD thesis for publication: firstly, I’m editing the sample chapters of my book that will be submitted for review, and secondly, I’m revising an article on needlework and visual culture, which is currently at revise and resubmit stage with a peer-reviewed journal. As a broader research aim, I also want to develop a sustainable daily writing habit during this month.

January is also the month in which I return to teaching, and this term I’m teaching four courses, one of which is completely new to me. I’m excited (and slightly apprehensive) about the challenges of a heavier teaching load, and interested to find ways of balancing my time between teaching and research commitments. Indeed, while teaching and marking dominate the months of January, February and March, I’m also planning on revising another article, this time on the interior decoration of A la Ronde, during this time. In February, I’m working on hosting a public event on Queer Material Heritage to tie in with this year’s LGBT History Month theme.

In April, I’ll be finishing off some marking, but more excitingly I’m off to Yale University’s Lewis Walpole Library for a two week-research trip. I’ll be researching an exciting mixture of things for both my monograph project, as well as my postdoctoral project on collage in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Directly following on from this, I’m spending the month of May as a Visiting Scholar at Yale Center for British Art, during which time I’ll also conduct research for the collage project, this time on composite albums, botanical paper collages, and a number of mourning objects.

In June I’ll be travelling to Umeå, Sweden for the International Society for Cultural History 2017 Conference, which this year is on ‘Senses, Emotions and the Affective Turn: Recent Perspectives and New Challenges in Cultural History’. My presentation, ‘Lost Objects & Loss Objects: Intersections of Absence and Presence in Eighteenth-Century Material Culture’, will hopefully provide the perfect opportunity to tease out some of the key issues for the Introduction of my book.

In July, I’m off to another conference, this time in London. At Sibylline Leaves: Chaos and Compilation in the Romantic Period, I’ll be presenting my recent work on Romantic commonplace books, which has functioned as a sort of pilot study for my collage project.

Finally, in August, I’m spending a month as a research fellow at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library. Other than providing a gorgeous setting for research, I’ll be using the Wintherthur’s library and museum collections to conduct research on a form of paper collage known as ‘scrapbook houses’. I’ll definitely be posting about all my research trips so stay tuned!

I’ll also be running Edinburgh’s Eighteenth-Century Research Seminars again this year (with the first session on Jan 25th) and Katie Faulkner  and I are hoping to develop a project from #WaysofSheing, which will look at the contribution of female art historians across history – watch this space.

From September onwards, things are a little more hazy, although I’m a hundred per cent sure that I’ll be working on publications as much as possible, having kept various articles and the book ticking over during the first 8 months of the year. So 2017, let’s do this.

BAVS Research Funding Award Report – Bronte Parsonage Museum

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Since beginning my research on the commonplace books of Ellen Warter, I – like their author – have been preoccupied with the Brontës. For Warter, the sisters were the objects of estimation, affection, and interest, and she obsessively documented them within her own literary productions. Made around 1880, and now housed in the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh, her commonplace books are quite unlike ‘conventional’ examples of the genre, which traditionally compile excerpted texts from a broad array of writers upon various topics. Instead, Warter devoted over 300 pages of her volumes to the lives and literature of the Brontës, rendering them more of a record of the family than anything else.

For Warter, commonplacing was an inherently familial practice. The granddaughter of the Romantic poet Robert Southey, she was part of a family whose own commonplacing and album-making spanned several generations. Warter’s grandfather, aunts, mother, and father all made, or contributed to the production of, such volumes, a literary inheritance that places Warter’s own productions within a longer history and set of material practices. Beyond this familial context, Warter’s specific interest in the Brontës locates her albums within another subdivision of nineteenth-century album making: the production of volumes dedicated to literary celebrities, specifically those celebrating and commemorating the Brontës, a number of which I examined during my research trip to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth.

The Museum holds numerous scrapbooks, albums, and collections of newspaper cuttings chronicling the Brontë family. With dates ranging between 1860 and 1980, the broad range of these holdings suggests the consistency of such practices well into the twentieth century. My research at the Museum focused on those albums produced after the Brontës’ heyday in the mid-nineteenth century until around 1914, in accordance with the chronological parameters of my broader project on ‘assemblage’ in the long nineteenth century. The albums I examined were characterized by the variety of their visual, material, and textual inclusions, which variously included photographs, written correspondence, printed images, dried flora, and newspaper cuttings. Such diversity highlights the variation inherent to nineteenth-century album production, and the dangers of adhering strictly to taxonomic classifications such as ‘scrapbook’ or ‘commonplace book’; ultimately reinforcing the importance of comparing and relating Warter’s own manuscripts to these albums. Further to these material observations, the analysis of around 40 examples of such volumes also revealed a number of emergent themes within their inclusions, with emphases upon: death, commemoration, and memorialization; portrayal and representation; locality; and social and familial relations; many of which are echoed within Warter’s own books. Going forward, the project will situate Warter’s treatment of the Brontës in relation to the albums studied on this visit, as well as the album production of the broader Warter and Southey families, made possible thanks to a travel grant award from the British Association for Romantic Studies.

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I would like to thank both the British Association for Victorian Studies and the Brontë Parsonage Museum for making this visit possible. The Museum’s Brontë collection is the largest in the world, and its holdings include original manuscripts, objects belonging to the family, and the records of the Brontë Society, established in 1893. The Museum also houses an extensive research library of primary and secondary sources, making it a crucial repository for the study of any aspect of the Brontë family.

N. B. this report will also appear in a future edition of the BAVS Newsletter.