Monthly Archives: September 2012

the many-headed monster

Mark Hailwood

As Christopher Thompson rightly notes over at Early Modern History, one of the great things about working at The Huntington is the people you get to meet over coffee. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time Patricia Fumerton, from the University of California Santa Barbara. Paddy is the pioneer of the online ballad database, EBBA, a digital resource that has been indispensable to my own research, and has been linked to on this blog numerous times already.

This gave me the chance to tell Paddy how great I think the site is, and in particular to praise its latest function that I have been playing around with: the ability to search, by category, the woodcut illustrations that adorn most seventeenth-century broadside ballads. I’ve been working on an article on representations of workers in these ballads – in particular artisan tradesmen –…

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Model urinal at the ICA

Up to London twice last week for two very different events which turned out to have a good deal in common. At the first a group of us – historians of design, science, ideas, literature and politics largely – met at the Institute of Contemporary Art in The Mall to brainstorm a project about the three early modern meanings of ‘craft’ – as material practice (hand-crafted things), as political mode (statecraft etc.), and as the codification of knowledge into, for instance, encyclopaedias. We met in a workshop at the top of the back stairs – low ceiling, sink for paint-mixing, strongly skylit with autumn light – to discuss how those three ideas might have woven together up to the edge of modernity.

Some key questions surfaced, particularly from Justin Champion and Rob Iliffe – when and where did the figure of the expert develop, and what was the nature, the foundations of their expertise and their authority? How did practices move from a personal to a public level – how were individuals’ skills scaled up, codified, standardized?

Then, on Friday, in the lecture room at the V&A, with its intricately painted half-dome over the stage and enormous figures of famous craftsmen, I went to the final conference of the Fashioning the Early Modern project. Here Evelyn Welch talked about the stories told about individual, heroic male inventors who overcame enormous obstacles to create new technology. She asked where collectivity comes into narratives of discovery, how less ‘serious’ inventions such as clothing innovations happened, and what place the changes wrought by women might have had?

This brought me back to our brainstorms earlier in the week, looking at that relationship between making the same object and improving it; altering the product or the process. It reminded me of our conversations about the distribution of knowledge – how much do you need to know about the way a thing is made to appreciate it? How do you write down knowledge in books? What is the relationship between personal and common knowledge?

One object that we discussed seemed to encapsulate the transfer of knowledge and skill between designers, producers and potential consumers: the model – site for trying out and communicating ideas; pattern for makers. Trying to leave the ICA, we had to wait because they had a large model of a urinal, signed ‘Will Gompertz’, stuck in the door. It keeps coming back to mind, making me think through those boundaries between craft, art, pre and post modernity…

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‘Ritual and Routine in the Post-Medieval Home’

The conference ‘Ritual and Routine in the Post-Medieval Home’ supported by the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology took place in York on 7-9 September 2012. This conference shed new light on the material culture of both routine and ritual practices in post-medieval vernacular houses. It was a superb event with a packed programme of fascinating papers. Congratulations to the organisers, Kate Giles and Chris King. We were delighted to be invited to speak and would like to thank the organisers for the opportunity to present a joint paper, ‘Religious ritual and routine work: spaces, activities and ‘focusing the mind’ in the early modern English house’. We attach a draft of our paper as it was presented here: DRAFT PAPER AS PRESENTED AT SPMA CONFERENCE 9 9 2012

Please note that this piece represents the content of an oral presentation and has not been peer-reviewed, professionally edited or proof read. We request that readers respect the ‘fair use’ principle if quoting from and referencing this work. A publication arising from the proceedings of the conference is planned, which will contain a revised version of this draft paper with full supporting references.

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Urban History Conference Paper

The European Association for Urban History’s 11th international conference took place in Prague at the end of August 2012. We were delighted to take part in the session on ‘Economies of Quality’ and the ‘Material Renaissance’: Comparative Perspectives on Material Culture Changes in Late Medieval and Sixteenth-Century Europe. Despite the sweltering heat the session was very well attended and contributions ranged from the role of the ‘upholder’ in the consumer culture of 15th and 16th century England; the contents of Jehan Aubert of Dijon’s inventory; small-scale portraits in 16th century Lyons; domestic decoration, tableware and fabrics in Bruges and Oudenaarde during the long sixteenth century and consumerism in 16th century Frankfurt on the Main. Full versions of all presented papers were provided to delegates on a USB and this copy of our co-authored paper: ‘The Material Renaissance’ and the Middling Sort: Domestic Goods and the Practices of Everyday Life in Provincial English Urban Houses’ is provided here:


Please note that this piece represents work towards an oral presentation and has not been professionally edited or proof read. We request that readers respect the ‘fair use’ principle if quoting from and referencing this work. A publication arising from the proceedings of this session of the conference is planned, which will contain a revised version of this draft paper.

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