Archives for posts with tag: nineteenth century

I’ve come across this passage referred to in two books in the last week. In her work Homes of the London Poor, Octavia Hill, writing of trying to persuade “the poor” to move from what she regarded as “miserable” accommodation to slightly less horrible surroundings wrote:

“Our plan of removing the inhabitants of the miserable underground kitchens to rooms in the upper parts of the houses, did not, strange as it may seem, meet with any approbation at first. They had been so long in the semi-darkness that they felt it an effort to move. One woman, in particular, I remember, pleaded hard with me to let her stop, saying, “My bits of things won’t look anything if you bring them to the light.” By degrees, however, we effected the change.”

For me, the woman’s concern that her “bits of things” should be seen to best advantage is very revealing, and I believe supports my contention that even the poorest (these were people living in dark and dingy cellars and basements) wished to display some objects (a collection?) that reflected well on their owners.

Hill, Octavia. Homes of the London Poor. Fortnightly Review, November 1866.

In Small Things Forgotten was the title of what is perhaps the most widely-known book on the historical archaeology of North America. Archaeologist James Deetz wrote it in 1977 as an enthusiastic, inspiring and energising introduction to his area of study, and it has been included in almost every historical archaeology reading list, and read and cited very many times ever since. In my reading of his work, Deetz used the word “small” to indicate that the objects and features he explored were unspectacular, ordinary, mundane, cheap, familiar, often discarded, perhaps easily overlooked and indeed forgotten. He was asking us as archaeologists to recognise and assign big meanings to things previously regarded as insignificant. Ironically, Deetz does not really look at small (as in diminutive) things, things that I call miniatures, objects that are small-scale versions of full-sized originals, real or imagined. It is these small things that I am researching. Mass-produced miniatures share all the characteristics of Deetz”s small things, but I suggest that they have been even more overlooked by archaeologists, especially in the Old World.

From September 2012 I shall be carrying out research for a PhD at Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design (MIRIAD).  My broad and unedited scope (it will without doubt change and narrow once I begin to interact with staff and fellow-students) – Objects of Delight: Mass-produced miniatures from the nineteenth century to the present. This blog will parallel that activity, reflecting both my research and life as a (mature) student.