material culture

Week in Review – 11 March

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a Week in Review post, which is a shame as I find them a useful resource to look back on, particularly for noting historiographical trends. Today, I’m getting back in the habit with a quick post on the last week.


First up, the Public Domain Review featured this completely amazing Autograph Quilt, made by Adeline Harris Sears, c.1856–1863. This beautiful quilt, begun around 1856, features numerous autographs of people of note in nineteenth-century America, stitched together with a diverse selection of fabric scraps. During my Short-Term Research Fellowship at the Winterthur Museum and Library in August of last year, I spent some time examining their fascinating collection of autograph quilts, working on a case study for my project Collage before Modernism, so I was really excited to see this incredible specimen! For more photos and discussion, see the Public Domain Review site.

So many fascinating books caught my attention this week, including: Making Milk: The Past, Present and Future of Our Primary FoodNew Perspectives on the History of Facial Hair: Framing the Face; Griselda Pollock’s hugely anticipated Charlotte Salomon and the Theatre of MemoryExhibiting War: The Great War, Museums, and Memory in Britain, Canada, and Australia; and Forms of Empire: The Poetics of Victorian Sovereignty, which are now all firmly on my ‘to-read’ list. I was also hugely excited to learn about Robin Mitchell’s forthcoming book VÉNUS NOIRE: Black Women, Colonial Fantasies, and the Production of Gender & Race in France, 1804-1848, but it has yet to be released!

Finally, the following CFPs and conferences also peaked my interest:

CFP: Female Networks: Gendered Ways of Producing Knowledge (1750-1830)

CONF: Interior – inferior – in theory? (Berlin, 17-18 May 18)

CFP: Sexuality and Consumption – 18th Century to 21st Century; Vienna, Nov. 23/24

CFA: MA Archaeology of Death and Memory at the University of Chester



BOOK – Domestic Space in Britain, c.1750-1840: Materiality, Sociability and Emotion (Forthcoming, Bloomsbury Academic)

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I’m thrilled to announce that my book, Domestic Space in Late Georgian Britain: Materiality, Sociability and Emotion, c. 1750-1840 is now under contract with Bloomsbury Academic. I’ll be writing more posts about the book as it develops, but for now, I want to share the book’s draft blurb:

Between 1750 and 1840, the home took on unprecedented social and emotional significance. Focusing on the design, decoration, and reception of a range of elite and middling class homes from this period, Domestic Space in Late Georgian Britain demonstrates that the material culture of domestic life was central to how this function of the home was experienced, expressed, and understood at this time. Examining craft production and collection, gift exchange and written description, inheritance and loss, it carefully unpacks the material processes that made the home a focus for contemporaries’ social and emotional lives.

The first book on its subject, Domestic Space in Late Georgian Britain employs methodologies from both art history and material culture studies to examine previously unpublished interiors, spaces, texts, images, and objects. Utilising extensive archival research; visual, material, and textual analysis; and histories of emotion, sociability, and materiality, it sheds light on the decoration and reception of a broad array of domestic spaces. In so doing, it writes a new history of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century domestic space, establishing the materiality of the home as a crucial site for identity formation, social interaction, and emotional expression.

More soon!

IASH Work in Progress Seminar – 10 January 2018

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Screen Shot 2018-01-08 at 20.50.37.jpgOn Wednesday 10 January 2018, I’ll be delivering a ‘Work in Progress’ seminar on my research project ‘Collage before Modernism’ at IASH. The seminar will outline the project, introducing some of the key issues and ideas at stake in the project, and the relevant historiography and methodologies used, before discussing some of the project’s central case studies. In so doing, it will highlight how a focus on collage made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries allows us to explore ideas of genre, periodicity, and reflexivity.

Further details available here.

IASH Twitter Takeover – Favourite Collages #4 – Plas Newydd’s Windows

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My final ‘favourite collage’ that I’m going to share for my IASH twitter takeover are these windows, located in the Library at Plas Newydd, North Wales. Home to the so-called ‘Ladies of Llangollen’, Eleanor Bulter and Sarah Ponsonby, from around 1788 until 1831, Plas Newydd was (and still is) adorned with a rich collection of objects, many of them given to the women by their close friends, and subsequently integrated into the very fabric of their home.

This process of acquisition and integration is exemplified by the construction of the stained-glass windows of the house’s library. Employing glass variously found at Valle Crucis, a nearby ruined abbey; purchased from the Birmingham glass maker and painter, Francis Eginton; and donated by the women’s friends; the windows form an intoxicating bricolage of brightly coloured and fragmented glass, encompassing representations of biblical scenes, heraldry, foliate designs, abstract patterns, and block colour.


This included a casement of glass from their friend Mr Owen, who had recently removed the stained glass of his home, Brogyntyn Hall. While this gift has an obvious antiquarian significance, its relocation into the space of Plas Newydd built on this genealogical function to reinforce the relationship between donor and recipient. Made from numerous gifted fragments, the house’s stained glass windows function as a tribute to the thriving gift culture in which Butler and Ponsonby and their friends were implicated. At the same time, by combining these with a diverse array of collected, found and acquired, pieces of glass, they also demonstrate the connectedness between the women, their acquaintances, and their locale.

I talk more about gift culture of Plas Newydd in my book, Home Ties: Materiality, Sociability, and Emotion in British Domestic Space, 1750-1840, which is currently under review at Bloomsbury (and hopefully I’ll be able to post an update about this very soon!!). I’ve so enjoyed being able to share some of the key collages for my postdoctoral research project with you on the IASH twitter page this week, so I think I’ll make this a regular series on the blog as the project develops.

IASH Twitter Takeover – Favourite Collages #2 – the commonplace books of Ellen Warter

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In the second of my IASH Twitter Takeover ‘favourite collages’ posts, I want to talk about something that you might not think about as being a collage at all – two commonplace books made c.1885 by Ellen Warter, the granddaughter of the Romantic poet Robert Southey, now held at the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh.

img_2435 2Page from the commonplace book of Ellen Warter, granddaughter of Robert Southey, Coll-1559, Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh.

A popular practice since classical antiquity, the production of commonplace books involved the compilation of excerpted texts from a broad array of writers on a variety of topics. Like traditional paper collage, then, they are collections of materials from a range of different sources, reformulated into a new object. Despite this compiled and composite nature, commonplace books are rarely conceived of in relation to collage. Instead, they tend to be discussed more as records of reading practices, knowledge exchange, and education.

Yet Ellen Warter’s commonplace books tell a more complex story than this.Warter devoted over 300 pages of her volumes to the lives and literature of the Brontë family, who were the objects of her sustained estimation, affection, and documentation. This specific emphasis upon the Brontës relates Warter’s albums to a specific type of album-making: namely, the production of volumes dedicated to literary celebrities, a practice enacted throughout the nineteenth century. Beyond this fascination with the Brontës however, the practice of commonplacing was firmly intertwined with Warter’s own family history. As the granddaughter of 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, composite volumes, a literary inheritance that places Warter’s own productions within a longer history and set of material practices. Crucially, such practices were also enacted within the broader Romantic circle, with Southey contributing to the volumes of his friends’ daughters, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Caroline Bowles, Charles Lamb, and Edward Quillinan reciprocally adding poems to the albums of Edith Southey, Warter’s mother. For Warter then, commonplacing was not only an educative practice, but an inherently social one, with her compilation of ‘Brontëana’ consistent with the collective practices of her own extended literary family.

More than the sum of their collaged parts then, Warter’s commonplace books are not only a collection of individual details and textual clippings, but evoke the broader contexts of authorship, celebrity, and collaboration.

IASH Twitter Takeover – Favourite Collages #1 – ‘Collection of botanical collages from the circle of Booth Grey.’

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this week I’m over on the IASH twitter talking about my research project, Collage before Modernism. Yesterday, I asked you what some of your favourite collages were – and the results included: Joseph Cornell’s amazing boxes; quilts from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s 2010 exhibition; and queer zines, such as those preserved on .

Each day for the rest of this week, I’m going to introduce you to some of MY favourite collages, and first up, it’s this series of Botanical Collages from the Circle of Booth Grey, now housed at Yale Center for British Art (YCBA).


I was lucky enough to spend a month at YCBA in May this year as part of their Visiting Scholarship programme. During this time I looked at a huge amount of amazing material, but perhaps the most puzzling was the ‘Collection of botanical collages from the circle of Booth Grey.’ With their black grounds and stark attention to the details of the plants that they replicate, the collages clearly echo those made by Mary Delany, many of whose infamous and extensive series of botanical collages – what she called her ‘paper mosaicks’ – are now in the collections of the British Museum. Delany’s collages just one example of Delany’s industrious material production – she also made shell work, engaged in needlework, and drew and painted. As such, the collages have been discussed in terms of feminine accomplishment, craft practices, botanical amateurism, and female friendship, all of which provide compelling contexts in which to understand these works. Grey’s collection, however, complicates this paradigm.

The attribution to Grey – an elite male – is accordingly tentative. The series’ current record title on the YCBA catalogue – ‘Collection of botanical collages from the circle of Booth Grey’ – indicates only an ambiguous relationship to Grey. He is not necessarily identified as artist, or owner, we are told only that the collages have some connection to him. Yet this identification was prompted by some fairly compelling evidence: an inscription on the original album that once held these collages ’98 Plants done by the Honble. Booth Grey’, ‘done’, here, of course, suggesting that they were ‘made’ by Grey.

Grey certainly could have come into contact with Delany: as the younger son of the Countess of Stamford, and whose older brother was married to the Duchess of Portland’s daughter Henrietta, Grey was part of the elite, and crucially, creative, social circle in which Delany also moved. Kohleen Reeder also supposes that Grey even gave Delany some of her specimens, highlighting a potential relationship that was directly related to these material and artistic practices. Yet despite these corroborating details, there is a palpable reluctance to link Grey to these objects, a feeling that something about this picture must be wrong. Key to this hesitancy, I think, is a general assumption that men simply did not make collage – certainly not during this period, in the late eighteenth century. By 1912 of course, and the advent of Modernism, men certainly did make collage, and that collage was definitively art. This is the date of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque’s earliest papier collé, as exemplified by works such as Picasso’s Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper of 1913. By this point, collage has become a key visual weapon in the attack on traditional painted representation; a central form of Modernist experimentation. This narrative of the Modern invention of collage, however, entirely divorces it from those images and objects that preceded it. The paper flowers of Delany, and, maybe, of Grey, lie far from Picasso’s radicalism, tinged by their association with the explicitly female frameworks of craft, amateurism, and the domestic.

Yet attention to collages like those ‘from the circle of Booth Grey’ – whatever that ultimately might mean – provide a chance to challenge this neatly drawn timeline with its rigid, teleological chronology. Instead they allow us to rethink the relationship between collage and craft; between masculinity and modernism. During my Postdoctoral Fellowship at IASH, I’ll be teasing out this complex relationship in my article, ‘Collage, Masculinity, and the Modern: Gendered Art Histories 1780-1912’, which is forthcoming as part of the Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies Special Issue, ‘Making Masculinity: Craft, Gender, and Material Production in the Long Nineteenth-Century’ that I’m co-editing with Dr Katie Faulkner. Whatever the ‘truth’ around Booth Grey’s collages, they provoke a number of questions that I am excited to try and answer.

BSECS Criticks Review – Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

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My review of the National Museum of Scotland’s Summer exhibition Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites is now up on the BSECS Criticks site. Read it here.