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Title: Furnishings and domestic culture in early modern England
Author: Buxton, Antony
ISNI:       0000 0003 6947 539X
Awarding Body: Oxford University
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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The first aim of this study is to explore the experience of non-elite domestic life in the early modern period. The study employs as primary evidence the household objects listed in the probate inventories from the market town of Thame in Oxfordshire in the seventeenth century, not for want of better but on the basis that the engagement with its material environment is fundamental to human existence. Associations of objects indicate the actions which structure social relationships and attendant values. The interpretation of material culture therefore needs to assess both the ontological and epistemological attributes of objects, balanced through a contextual or hermeneutical reading. In the early modern period this understanding can be enriched with other contemporary written and pictorial sources. The affordance of objects reveals the possibilities that they provide, and agency their engagement both with humans and other objects. Since context is fundamental to the manner in which objects signify, the full complexity of their interaction with humans is only revealed through a sensitive examination of associations in place and through time, made possible in a microstudy highly focussed in locality and period. The distribution of activities through the domestic domain thus reveals the practice of the early modern household, its continuity and development. This interpretive framework supports the second aim of this study; an understanding of the way in which the different elements of domestic life - material, social and conceptual - give rise to a domestic culture. A discussion of this theoretical and interpretive framework, along with a survey of previous employment of inventories as historical evidence and an outline of the research methods employed, constitutes the introduction to the study. Since context is all important in the configuration of domestic life and the significance of its activities, the study proceeds in the second chapter to an exploration of the landscape, economy, social and ethical culture in which the Thame household was embedded in the seventeenth century, with which it interacted and by which it was sustained. The third chapter details the conditions, social, jural and economic, which governed the establishment and existence of the Thame household, and extant architectural evidence for the physical nature of the seventeenth century dwelling house. The fourth, fifth and sixth chapters focus on the material culture listed in the probate inventories and the affordance and agency of objects employed in the principal domestic activities; the provisioning of the household and the processing of foodstuffs, the cooking and commensal and hospitable consumption of food and drink, the setting for rest, and the ordering and securing of household objects. Chapter seven then examines the manner in which the assemblages of objects in distinct spaces within the dwelling indicate the distribution of these activities and in which domestic space was differentiated, giving rise to the internal social dynamic and attendant ideologies not only permeating relationships but also reinvested in actions and objects. The final chapter summarizes the picture of domestic life revealed by the inventories and supplementary sources, and the way in which the development of domestic life in Thame corresponds with the wider narrative of the early modern period; the erosion of the collective household by an emerging individualism rooted in the development of commerce. Finally the study considers the validity of the framework proposed and employed here for the interpretation and comprehension of domestic culture.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available