Living in Victorian London: Material Histories of Everyday Life in the Nineteenth-Century Metropolis

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Geography


In recent years social historians have begun to shift their attention from the study of ideology, representation and the politics of urban identity to reassess the material history of cities. Combining the analysis of archaeological and documentary evidence - and in contrast to much recent writing on the history of Victorian London which has been concerned with questions of discourse and meaning - this research investigates the material history of everyday life in the nineteenth-century metropolis. More specifically, it utilises an 'ethnographies of place' methodology -formulated by scholars working on nineteenth-century Australian cities - to consider the variation in the material culture of everyday life across three contrasting localities in London: a residential location in wealthy Westminster, a poor dockside neighbourhood in Limehouse in the East End, and a middle-class property in Sydenham, south of the River Thames. Through detailed analysis of archaeological artefacts preserved at the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (a subsidiary organisation of the Museum of London) and of personal, family and local historical records found in a variety of archives and libraries across the city, the project seeks to gain a deeper understanding of the social complexity and geographical diversity of London life. It uses this evidence to investigate the organisation and use of domestic space and the relationship between Victorian Londoners' homes and the wider urban world. The project proposes fresh theoretical approaches, opens up new source materials and evaluates innovative methodologies for studying Victorian London. The dissemination activities will ensure that a broad group of individuals interested in the metropolitan past - from academic historians and historical archaeologists to genealogists and school children - will be informed of the methods and findings of the study. A longer term goal is to use the insights of this pilot study to develop a larger, collaborative research programme on the material history of nineteenth and twentieth-century London.


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