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Body and experience in the archaeological and historical record
Karen Harvey

Despite a growing interest in ‘embodiment’, historians of the body rarely consider the extant material remains of their subject. This chapter seeks to contribute to a discussion about how historians and other scholars might examine the archaeological (and particularly bioarchaeological record) and the historical record together in order to better understand the embodied experiences of people in the past. This chapter offers new ways to study past embodied experiences as an outcome of the material, social and cultural. Focusing on two non-elite individuals from the north of England between 1793 and 1849, it draws on the rich but also incomplete evidence to reconstruct their lives as lived. The first case study explores the themes of risk, youth and masculinity, focusing on James Simpson (1815–34), the son of a currier and leather cutter in Sheffield. This case underscores the advantages of class and gender, as well as the risks of damage posed to young men’s bodies in early nineteenth century towns. The second case study is Ann Purvis (c.1793–1849), a member of a family of river pilots in South Shields. The analysis exposes the vulnerabilities caused to women by poverty and singlehood, as well as the evident care and social status available to such women within the family. The chapter demonstrates that bringing the bioarchaeological, material and historical record together and, in particular, in exploring the tensions between them, produces new knowledge about the lived experiences of non-elite individuals in the past that would otherwise be inaccessible.

in The material body
Cultural historical and osteoarchaeological perspectives
Sophie L. Newman
and
David M. Turner

While there has been much work on definitions of old age and the experiences of older people in the past, there have been comparatively few studies that explore the physical processes of ageing and the relationship between old age and disability in the working classes of Britain during the Industrial Revolution. Through the combination of osteological, textual and cultural evidence, this chapter reveals how experiences of ageing, and related impairments, were influenced by gender and social status in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The bodily consequences of impairment imparted by industrialised society, and the processes of ageing, are examined in three individual skeletal biographies from Hazel Grove, Stockport and St Hilda’s, South Shields. While impaired bodies have often been viewed as marginal or ‘othered’, official reports, medical sources and social and political commentary suggests that physical difference was an expected and ‘normal’ experience of the working classes. Large proportions of the working population were at risk of impairment by occupational injury, disease and poor living conditions, and this was frequently conceptualised as premature ageing. As such the onset of old age was determined by occupation and, against the backdrop of a sharpening division of labour and economic opportunity, by gender. In this context, the history of old age and the history of disability are inextricably linked. Continued dialogues between osteological and historical researchers can enrich our understanding of marginalised populations, and our own perceptions of who was considered ‘old’ in past societies.

in The material body
Footwear and gender in Britain, 1700–1850
Matthew McCormack

This chapter focuses on shoes from early eighteenth- to mid-nineteenth-century Britain, in order to propose some approaches to the histories of gender, embodiment and material culture. Shoes reveal a great deal about gender, given the contrasting designs and functions that have historically been ascribed to male and female footwear. Furthermore, they tell us much about the body, since the height of the heel and the flexibility of the sole impact upon the posture and motions of the body. As well as altering the visual shape of the body, footwear affects the ability of the wearer to perform tasks such as walking, riding and physical labour. They therefore relate in important ways to the social roles that have historically been ascribed to men and women, and the history of shoes offers a critical perspective on historians’ accounts of gender change in the eighteenth century. As well as the impact of shoes on the body, the chapter considers the impact of the body on shoes. Because shoes bear the whole weight of the body and endure great stresses, they take the form of the body and become individual to their wearer. This provides historians with a rich primary source about the wearer’s body, with evidence of body shape and walking gait visible in wear patterns, stretches and scuffs. The chapter therefore argues that an embodied history of shoes offers a unique insight into the bodies of historical actors.

in The material body
Open Access (free)
The material body in archaeology and history
Elizabeth Craig-Atkins
and
Karen Harvey

The introduction to The Material Body examines the theoretical frameworks of the material turn, new materialism and embodiment and explores how the social and material are combined in the making of embodied experience. It also reveals how archaeologists and historians – when they work together – are uniquely placed to revolutionise the study of people as embodied subjects. The Introduction explores how the chapters collectively integrate sources, concepts and methods from archaeology, history and material culture studies to study embodied lives in the past. The selection of studies of the period c.1700–1850 exploits the rich and diverse archaeological, bioarchaeological, material and historical sources available for that period. It also brings into focus bodies that might be considered ‘ordinary’ and ‘marginalised’ and draws attention to temporally significant categories of identity – including age, gender, class and disability – in ways that highlight structures of matter, thought, culture and power through which embodied experiences were formed. The introduction also draws out the significance of the innovative methods presented in this book: the collaboration of archaeologists and historians in devising and writing chapters; the study of the material body through novel combinations of skeletal remains, material objects, text and image; the deployment of different scales of analysis, from the personal to the national; and the use of reflective practice among co-authors to explore productive tensions in evidence and epistemology.

in The material body
Open Access (free)
Integrating historical and archaeological evidence for reproduction in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries
Elizabeth Craig-Atkins
and
Mary E. Fissell

This chapter explores an archaeological finding unique in Britain – a burial group of thirty-four perinates and fetuses from a late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century site in South Shields – while adopting and reflecting upon a novel model of co-working between an archaeologist and historian. The interments, dating from c.1780–1818, were situated in unconsecrated ground adjoining an active churchyard, suggesting a process of ‘vernacular consecration’ occurred, in which the regular burial of unbaptised remains just outside the churchyard sanctified the area. The authors locate these findings in a landscape of working-class reproductive risk and argue that the site reflects a paradox: working-class infants were both highly valued and often unwanted. Historical and archaeological methods are brought together to explore three intersecting fields of force within which the authors constitute the material and documentary evidence: high perinatal mortality rates and experience of miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death; the importance but high cost of decent burial among all social classes; and the potential for unwanted pregnancies resulting from lack of access to reliable contraception and the stigma of unwed motherhood. Methodologically, the authors eschew what they call ‘the handmaiden problem’ in which one discipline is treated as accessory to another, concealing epistemological practices. Adopting a critical approach to interdisciplinary collaborative writing, they show how archaeological and historical analyses of this site can be both reinforcing and result in productive conflict. The new insights our approach has generated provides a strong justification for its widespread adoption when integrating historical and archaeological sources.

in The material body
Open Access (free)
Embodiment, history and archaeology in industrialising England, 1700–1850

The Material Body exploits the possibilities of studying the material body in the past primarily through the sources and approaches of archaeology, history and material culture studies. Together, these seven chapters draw upon collections of human remains, material culture and documentary evidence from Britain during the period 1700–1850; major themes are gender, class, age, disability and maternity. Some contributions are co-authored by a historian and archaeologist; others are single authored. But each chapter explores the lived experiences of the material body drawing on disciplines which share an interest in the material or embodied turn. The volume demonstrates new interdisciplinary ways of looking at experiences of the body. It brings together archaeological and historical data to reconstruct embodied experiences and represents the first collection of genuinely collaborative scholarship by historians and archaeologists.

Archaeological and historical evidence of bodysnatching in early eighteenth-century London
Robert Hartle

During 2011–15, the site of the ‘New Churchyard’ at Liverpool Street, London, was archaeologically excavated by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) for Crossrail Ltd. The municipal burial ground was established in 1569 and used until 1739. Among over 3000 excavated burials was a sand-filled and stone-topped coffin containing the skeleton of an unnamed individual aged c.16 years, dated to the early eighteenth century. These extremely unusual, perhaps unique, features were ostensibly measures designed to prevent bodysnatching, a practice documentary sources record occurred at the ground in 1717. In her seminal work, Death, Dissection and the Destitute, Ruth Richardson suggested the so-called ‘Corporation of Corpse-stealers’ was well-established in London by the 1720s. However, although bodysnatching for anatomical dissection during the mid-eighteenth to early nineteenth century has been extensively researched by both historians and archaeologists alike, the earlier years of the practice have been relatively neglected. Following a multidisciplinary approach, this chapter presents new documentary research (particularly drawing newspapers and apprenticeship, hospital, criminal and parish records) alongside the archaeological evidence from the New Churchyard. This approach facilitates a novel inquiry into the earliest documented cases of bodysnatching in London and demonstrates that far more can be said of its key features – its perpetrators, modus operandi, the public response, punishments and influence – than previously thought. This chapter argues that the prevailing historiographical representation of early British bodysnatching, particularly in London, requires considerable revision.

in The material body
Heidi Dawson-Hobbis
and
Jocelyn Davis

This chapter presents combined historical and osteoarchaeological biographies for five named individuals, Maria Taylor (1822–45), Thomas Rokeby Price (1849–53), Mark Kelson (1801–57), George Cumberland (1754–1848) and Elizabeth Cumberland (1752–1837), excavated from the nineteenth century cemetery of St George’s, Bristol. For this period there is a wealth of documentary evidence relating to occupation, family status and childbirth, and causes of death and injury that can complement osteological evidence of ageing, disease and activity patterns. Maria Taylor and Thomas Rokeby Price both had tuberculosis cited as the cause of death, enabling a comparison with the evidence for any skeletal lesions associated with this diagnosis, and adding to our knowledge of the manifestations of tuberculosis. Mark Kelson had evidence for a healed fracture, with the circumstances of his injury being reported in the local press. This allows a rare comparison between the state of healing of the injury and the known timeframe of the event. George and Elizabeth Cumberland were very elderly when they died: here we undertake an exploration of the ageing body, outlining some of the problems inherent in osteological methods of age determination. Letters written by George Cumberland also allow a more personal view of his age-related bodily ailments. This exploration of five individuals has allowed us to gain new insights into the lived experience of the inhabitants of Bristol in the nineteenth century and has demonstrated how collaboration between osteoarchaeological and historical research allows the illumination of less studied groups, such as women, children, and those of lower socioeconomic status.

in The material body
Anna M. Davies-Barrett
and
Sarah A. Inskip

The introduction of tobacco to Europe in the sixteenth century preceded a proliferation in societal norms, rituals and taboos surrounding its consumption. Historical sources suggest that pipe use was highly gendered, and became entangled with ideas about masculinity and sociability. The focus on male social smoking behaviours in historical sources provides limited scope for a more nuanced understanding of tobacco consumption across different social groups. Osteoarchaeological evidence for habitual smoking can also be identified from ‘pipe-notches’ and distinctive staining on the teeth. Further, the analysis of archaeological pipe assemblages provides insight into the materiality of smoking. Combining documentary, material and osteoarchaeological evidence, this chapter provides a unique consideration of the embodied experience of tobacco consumption in relation to social identity during the industrial period in England. It is demonstrated that age, class, gender, ethnicity and regional and cultural backgrounds may have all affected the ways in which people experienced tobacco consumption. Class and occupation were particularly important determining factors of tobacco consumption, as well as shaping how certain tobacco consumption practices were marginalised in print culture. We also identify a disconnect between documentary evidence for consumption of tobacco as a predominantly male social practice, and osteoarchaeological evidence for a large proportion of women also consuming, perhaps in the privacy of their own homes. The types of evidence utilised here can all present biases that result in the ‘invisibility’ of certain societal groups. However, in combination, they provide a unique perspective for understanding embodied experiences related to tobacco consumption across society.

in The material body
Open Access (free)
A heritage of woe?
Rachel E. Bennett

A question that has confronted the modern prison system since its inception in the mid-nineteenth century is whether prison was, or could ever be, an appropriate place for the birth and care of infants. Several voices have long debated the subject, some focused on the issue from the perspective of the institution, including the maternity provisions in place and the impact of infants on the discipline of the prison. Others have focused more upon the benefits for the mothers of having their children with them during their sentence instead of being forced to be separated. As the period progressed, voices claiming to advocate for the infants of prison mothers also became louder. This chapter examines recurring arguments supporting and opposing prison births and reveals how they were interleaved with questions of health, discipline, stigma and choice.

in Motherhood confined