materiality

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.

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Week in Review – 5 March

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Zoffany.jpgQueen Charlotte (detail; 1771), Johan Joseph Zoffany. Royal Collection Trust, UK. 

First up this week, this Apollo Magazine review of Yale Centre for British Art‘s exhibition Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World, which runs until April 30th (frustratingly, just one day before I arrive there as a visiting scholar!).

Secondly, I read Alice Kelly’s articleHow to make writing in the humanities less lonely‘, which discusses TORCH’s writing group with interest, as the group was a crucial source of inspiration for our own version in Edinburgh.

I thoroughly enjoyed this post from the National Museum of Scotland on Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament, which is an important object within the museum’s newly curated art and design galleries.

The Storifys for each day of the three days of the War Through Other Stuff conference are now available here. I’ll be posting some thoughts from the conference in an upcoming blog post next week.

I was also captivated by this Victoria and Albert Museum videoGarnitures: Vase Sets from National Trust Houses‘, which examines rare surviving examples of vase sets and ceramic ornaments from National Trust houses being displayed on furniture and in period rooms at the V&A.

I was excited to see that the special inaugural issue of the Journal of Romanticism, on Romanticism and mysticism, is now available for purchase.

Finally, I saw a reminder this week that all of the University of Cambridge Things sessions are available as podcasts online – I must catch up asap!

The following CFPs, conferences and CFAs also caught my attention this week:

CFP: Evidence of Power in the Ruler Portrait, 14th – 18th Centuries (1-2 Dec 17)

CFP: Material Histories of Time: Objects and Practices, 14th-18th centuries (La Chaux-de-Fonds, Musée international d’horlogerie, November 30 – December 1, 2017)

CFP: “Hawthorne and Things” MLA 2018

CONF: Dress and Diplomacy (Copenhagen, 22 Mar 17)

CFP: AAH Summer Symposium: Re/presenting the Body (Glasgow,
6-7 Jul 17)

CFP: Collections – Scholars – Interpretations (Tbilisi, 2-3
May 17)

CONF: Graduate Student Symposium – History of 19th-Century Art (New York, 26 Mar 17)

CFP: Special issue of Southern Cultures: Southern Things (Material Culture)

CFA: The Pre-Raphaelites and Antiquity (Special Issue Open Cultural Studies)

CFA: On Uses of Black Camp (Special Issue Open Cultural Studies)

CFA: Materiality, Objects and Objecthood (Special Issue Open Cultural Studies)

Week in Review – 5 February

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First up, I really enjoyed watching Dr Juliet Shields’ fortuitously timed lecture, ‘Did Sir Walter Scott Invent Scotland?’, which comes just ahead of my lectures on Scott’s legacy, visual representation, and his home of Abbotsford, which begin next week.

Secondly, I’m excited to see the National Museum of Scotland’s new free exhibition, Scottish pottery: Art and Innovation, which examines the wide range of pottery produced in the last 250 years.

I was interested to see that The John Rylands Library is hosting the event Rip It Up: A Celebration of the Counter-Culture, which includes a zine workshop. Thanks to their evocative collaged forms, zines are something that I’m becoming increasingly interested in. Due to their strong counter-cultural, extra-canonical nature, the production and consumption of zines can be a useful way to explore minority and non-heteronormative identity, something that I’d like to investigate in the future.

I’m looking forward to spending a few hours reading the latest volume of the Cahiers Victoriens et Édouardiens journal, a special issue entitled Object Lessons: The Victorians and the Material Text. 

The Morgan Library’s new exhibitionI’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson, examines twenty-four poems as well as ‘an array of visual material, including hand-cut silhouettes, photographs and daguerreotypes, contemporary illustrations, and other items that speak to the rich intellectual and cultural environment in which Dickinson lived and worked’.

This post about the wallpaper collector Suzanne Lipschutz is full of beautiful examples of vintage wallpapers.

I enjoyed reading a number of blog posts this week, including Shane Doyle’s post for Notches Blog (which is a perennial favourite of mine) ‘Local Sexual Cultures and the Response to HIV/AIDS Along the Uganda-Tanzania Border‘, which explores the history of how HIV understood within African communities. Hailey Maxwell’s post ‘DECAPITATION IN THE “LOW” SURREALIST REVOLUTION‘ is fascinating exploration of what ‘revolution’ is.

The following workshops and conferences also caught my eye this week:

CFP: International Design Organisations (Brighton, 8-10 Nov 17)

CFP: On the Matter of Blackness in Europe: Transnational Perspectives (May 4-5, 2017)

CFP: Corporeal Materiality (Dallas, 8 Apr 17)

CFP: David B. Warren Symposium on American Material Culture and the Texas Experience

CONF: Private Collecting and Public Display (Leeds, 30-31 Mar 17)

CONF: Symbolic Articulation (London, 10 Mar 17)

CFP: Culture on the Move in Edwardian Britain (Lancaster, 8-9
Sep 17)

CFP: The material culture of exploration and academic travel, 1700-1900

Finally, I was thrilled to see that the National Trust and National Archives are hosting the event, ‘Queer city: London club culture 1918 – 1967‘, which will re-create the interiors of The Caravan, London’s queer-friendly members club of 1934.

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.

Abstract for Sibylline Leaves: Chaos and Compilation in the Romantic Period

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I was thrilled to find out that I’ll be presenting my paper ‘A literary inheritance: Romantic family histories and textual afterlives in the commonplace books of Ellen Warter’ at next year’s Sibylline Leaves: Chaos and Compilation in the Romantic Period conference. This exciting conference brings together a number of fascinating approaches to Romantic cultural and material practices, and focuses on ‘the composition, publication and reception of romantic poetry in relation to a diverse range of collections and composite texts: miscellanies, anthologies and beauties, multi-volume or serialised fiction, magazines and newspapers, annuals and albums, common-place books and notebooks, catalogues and guidebooks, encyclopaedias and dictionaries.’ My abstract for the conference is included below.

A literary inheritance: Romantic family histories and textual afterlives in the commonplace books of Ellen Warter, Freya Gowrley (University of Edinburgh)

This paper will focus on 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. Though at first glance the volumes denote Warter’s participation in the rather usual Victorian practice of album production, sustained attention to the books and their compiled contents suggests their deeper significance for studies of nineteenth-century literary culture. More than the sum of their parts, Warter’s commonplace books are not only a collection of individual details and textual clippings, but also evoke the broader contexts of authorship, celebrity, and collaboration.

Warter’s commonplace books are quite unlike ‘conventional’ examples of the genre, which traditionally compile excerpted texts from a broad array of writers on a variety of topics. Instead, 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.

Employing the framework of the object biography, the paper will consider Warter’s commonplace books in terms of literary assemblage, tracing the volumes’ constitutive elements as they passed from one literary form into the next. At the same time, the paper will demonstrate how the books were inherently biographical objects, redolent with potent familial association, both of Warter’s own family, and that of the Brontës. The paper will accordingly situate Warter’s commonplace books in relation to both contemporary examples of ‘Brontëana’ and the broader album production of the Southey family and social circle. In so doing, it will highlight the importance of composite works to collective Romantic literary production, as well as their enduring legacy in the late-nineteenth century, thereby troubling traditional divisions between the Romantic and Victorian literary traditions, and demonstrating the disruptive nature of periodization.

Week in Review – 21 August

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My object of the week is this c.1760 Worcester dish, which features the company’s Valentine pattern (Brian Haughton Gallery). Featuring symbols of love, the emotional qualities of the object resonate with the work I’m currently doing on my monograph project, which examines the social and emotional functions of domestic space and its associated material culture.

This week, I was also intrigued to read the article ‘Renowned Feminist Art Historian Amelia Jones Believes that the Discipline of Art History Should be Restructured to Embrace New Narratives and Diverse Voices‘. Whilst it’s true that Jones’s argument is nothing new (indeed, it has been advocated by Pollock, Parker, and Krauss among others), I find it heartening to see these views discussed on the public platform of the Huffington Post.

I’m also currently obsessed with the New York Public Library’s Emoji Bot – tweet an emoji to the bot, and it will reply with an object/image from the Library’s collections.

Other things that caught my eye this week included:

The programme for the Women’s History Scotland Annual Conference (coming up this Friday).

This Atlas Obscura article How Flower-Obsessed Victorians Encoded Messages in Bouquets.

This interview with the curator of the The Henry Moore Institute’s latest exhibition, William Hamo Thornycroft: ‘Charity And Justice’.

Thomas Dixon’s blog post What is anger? 1. Martha Nussbaum, discusses the definition of anger provided by Nussbaum’s latest book Anger and Forgiveness.

The Things That Make Us podcast, a podcast about people and the objects that have shaped them.

The programme for the Critical Love Studies Research Workshop at the University of Hull’s Love Research Network.

Linda Walsh’s new bookA Guide to Eighteenth-Century Art. I’m interested to see how (and if) Walsh integrates the concerns advocated by Jones (above) in her account of eighteenth-century art.

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.