A life cycle of eighteenth-century metal cooking vessels: a reflexive approach
AbstractA seemingly mundane class of objects, metal cooking vessels, provides the basis for a new look at the parameters of economic and social development during the eighteenth century. As the 'workshop of the world' England saw growing levels of production and consumption and English society moved from a pre-modern to a modern form of consumption. Consumers from a widening range of social backgrounds gained access to a likewise growing range of manufactured objects. To assess how this relationship with the physical world accelerated, historians need to ask what sustained its momentum, and this study makes the case for approaching the question through the manufactures themselves. The study is based on the premise that humble objects of use are valuable sources of information and constitutive particles in the construction of the cultural and social activity of eighteenth-century England. This work consequently treats mundane, functional objects as integral to both the 'Industrial Revolution' and the 'Consumer Revolution'. A better understanding of their trajectory from objects of manufacture to objects of use will result in better understanding of the role of manufactured objects in the changing material world of eighteenth-century England and it will further contribute to a more complete understanding of domestic material culture. The study offers a more dynamic approach to Material Culture's products, to supplement the rather static picture provided by analyses of possessions. Objects not merely filled spaces, as physical markers they structured them and as tools they assisted in forming patterns of activity. Human beings use and need objects to demarcate and structure space and objects are part of the interior architecture and in their totality form an essential part of the built environment. Durable objects such as cooking vessels, while functional and embedded in users' traditions and therefore supporting continuity, also underwent important changes, which saw kitchen technology evolve from the open down-hearth fire to the enclosed range. Investigations of past activity are hampered by the fact that the past is matter without the dynamism of life. This should not deter from asking wherein the dynamics and activities consisted. People at all times were not merely producers or consumers but also users. Most people led lives that most of the time entailed physical activity and handling objects. Mundane, functional objects were the mainstay of the material culture of the vast majority of people who performed everyday tasks with them. The investigation of objects of everyday use allows a link to be made between inconspicuously mundane instruments for the preparation of food and its conspicuous consumption. Industriousness, innovation and change, which underpin these developments, however, may easily seem at odds with the slow-changing world of household implements. How much scope for innovation and fashion-induced change was there in the kitchen? To what extent can it be traced given the paucity of material documenting it? Constructive imagination soon meets its limitations when attempting to picture what was once a workplace of steaming activity from the remains of a battered pot. The study extends the traditional focus on the production or the consumer stage to embrace the entire life cycle from the workshops of production to the workshops of use. It looks in turn at the stage of production, the stages of virtual distribution and physical distribution, and finally the stage of use thereby taking the investigation from the workshops of metal smiths and founders to women's workshop, the kitchen. It argues that manufactured objects reward the effort of a life cycle investigation, demonstrating that each stage is integral to the object's specific and successful integration into the world of goods. It contends that ultimately all objects are tools, adding a new dimension to historians' understanding of consumption.
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
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