There are many different ways of accessing information about material culture through observation, examination and other forms of investigation. This chapter works through the main methods of analysis for working with objects. Here, the opportunities and constraints of examining objects in person are also discussed. The chapter is arranged in sections, the first dealing with methods of investigating objects physically, the second section considers contextual research and the last section discusses ways to further extend the research process on the basis of the first two modes of analysis.
This chapter provides an overview of the origins of material culture studies and the disciplinary specialisms that have had the strongest bearing on their development. The theoretical underpinning of material culture studies will be elucidated through a clear and concise discussion of the work of philosophers and social theorists – making clear that 'things' have agency. The chapter demonstrates that by viewing the objects of the past as inanimate and inactive as compared with the living, breathing humans who made, exchanged, and used them - researchers can miss the dynamism of the object-person interactions that took place many decades or centuries ago. Moving on from the theoretical principles that have shaped the study of material things, the chapter discusses the circumstances that brought about historical material culture studies. It also considers the particular place of historical work within this context and the many potentialities material culture history offers for future research.
This chapter provides the first account of the network of Arts and Crafts women who established independent ‘artistic’ businesses where they designed, made, and sold work. Firstly, the chapter unveils that central to the making of ‘authentic’ artistic masculinities during this era was the idea of the ‘medieval’ workshop. The range of workshops and businesses women established, and the breadth of interest, is delineated in the second part. The most important negotiation which permitted the establishment of such businesses concerned the creation of a respectable identity in the face of competing demands, and this topic is addressed in the final section. Women had tripartite existences: as well as continually legitimising their positions as business owners and art workers, they had to maintain positions as middle-class women. Throughout the chapter engrained narratives which position male cultural production as the nexus around which interest in the Arts and Crafts, design, urban modernity, medievalism, and England’s artistic reputation coalesced, are challenged. These businesses became critical sites where ideas about gender, art, expertise, and commerce were reworked, enabling a network of women to play an influential part in disseminating the ethos of the Arts and Crafts across new local, national, and international spheres of influence.
This chapter provides the first comprehensive history of the homes and studios belonging to Arts and Crafts women and the relationships that played out in these spaces. Together these homes, which ranged from rented rooms in purpose-built urban housing for working women through to grand country houses, constituted key sites of resistance and self-expression. In the quest to find ‘a room of one’s own’, women art workers increasingly sought their own studios, which functioned as the central space in their lives. Following the life course of women art workers, the chapter begins in the unmarried home. Firstly, exploring the experiences of young women in the family home, and then their adult lives, often in all-women households, or remaining in the houses they had grown up in. The final section explores how art workers, married and unmarried, together used their homes and studios to create an expansive network spread across the capital, and across the country. By reformulating traditional practices of domestic socialisation such as ‘At Homes’, to organise meetings focused around art, work, education, and political reform, these women remained respectably situated amidst an expansive domestic milieu, whilst engaging in the very process of pursuing modern working lives.
Chapter 1 begins by exploring how the male-only Art Workers’ Guild claimed cultural authority from the Guild’s 1884 foundation; understanding their strategies is crucial in unpacking the relational dynamics between women and men in the movement. The chapter then offers the first comprehensive account of the Arts and Crafts networks that were formed at women’s art groups such as the ’91 Art Club, the Arts and Crafts Board at the Lyceum Club, and the Women’s Guild of Arts. These groups complicate the master narrative of the steady feminisation of public life as the central goal for women during this era. For those identifying as ‘serious’ art workers, it was increasingly not simply the ‘public sphere’ they specifically aspired to gain access to but was, in fact, the ‘private sphere’ of the secretive, higher echelons of the male-oriented art world, represented and sustained by intellectually driven meetings at Clifford’s Inn, and from 1914 at 6 Queen Square, Bloomsbury. In particular, the chapter explores the Women’s Guild of Arts’ infiltration of the same Hall for its own meetings from 1907, arguing this constituted a key strategy of self-actualisation in women art workers’ quest for formal recognition in the Arts and Crafts movement.
Understanding museum collections and other repositories
Leonie Hannan and Sarah Longair
This chapter focuses on the over-arching methodology of a research project, which guides the work that is conducted in a museum, library or archive. Using examples of contemporary historical scholarship, the choices researchers make about their primary sources, methods of analysis and theoretical frameworks are unpacked case by case. This chapter also deals with the difficulties of working on material culture that no longer survives, a challenge common to historical studies.
The epilogue uses the moment women became eligible to join the Art Workers’ Guild in 1964 as a heuristic device to probe simplistic narratives of women’s steady ‘progress’ in the twentieth century. Although, on one level, this book has provided an account of the increase in creative, paid opportunities for artistic women from the late nineteenth century onwards, and of the substantial changes they made to their lives, and the lives of those around them, the epilogue emphasises the persistent, ongoing, structural gendered hierarchies in the art world and in modern society in the decades that followed. In the 1960s and 1970s there continued to be considerable sexism about the expertise and quality of women’s designs and creativity, anxieties about women’s separatist strategies, and women still continually had to battle for recognition and equal pay, and face issues such as tokenism. The epilogue finishes by reflecting on the ideological struggles women have persistently faced when seeking to reconcile their professional, creative, and political aspirations, what we can learn from the strategies implemented by women art workers, and the ongoing issues in how the Arts and Crafts movement is portrayed to modern audiences.
Chapter 2 explores how women in the Arts and Crafts movement reshaped England’s exhibition culture for their own creative and professional needs. There is a tendency to portray the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society as the exclusive, sole site where Arts and Crafts practitioners displayed and sold work, and spread the ethos of the movement, but this is untenable: during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there was an explosion in the number and diversity of public sites where the Arts and Crafts were exhibited. The particular focus of this chapter is to unpack the constraining term ‘women’s exhibitions’, to unveil the wealth of events, including several national and international exhibitions, alongside women-led suffrage and Arts and Crafts exhibitions, which are largely ignored by the historiography but were, in their day, highly influential and popular occasions. Ultimately, exhibitions enabled women art workers to play a central role in the public expansion of the movement, through the dual process of connecting them with people more receptive to their assertions of expertise, and by facilitating the engagement of different audiences with Arts and Crafts objects across an ever-widening range of public spaces.
History through material culture provides a practical introduction for researchers who wish to use objects and material culture as primary sources for the study of the past. The book focuses primarily on the period 1500 to the present day, but the principles put forward are equally applicable to studies of earlier historical eras. Histories of the last five centuries have been driven to a remarkable extent by textual records and it is with this in mind that History through material culture offers researchers a step-by-step guide to approaching the material evidence that survives from this period. Anticipating that many researchers will feel under-skilled or lacking in confidence in tackling artefacts of the past, the book traces the process of research from the framing of research questions through to the writing up of findings – giving particular attention to the ways in which objects can be located, accessed and understood. This practical guidance is augmented by the use of examples of seminal and contemporary scholarship in this interdisciplinary field, so that readers can see how particular approaches to sources have been used to develop historical narratives and arguments. It is written in accessible and jargon-free language with clear explanations of more complex discourses. In this way, the book demystifies both the process of researching objects and the way research practice relates to published scholarship.