Ways of Seeing the English Domestic Interior, 1500-1700: the case of decorative textiles

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Sch of English

Abstract

This network brings together researchers in the humanities and sciences, conservators, museums curators and heritage professionals to address a central research question: how would people have experienced and engaged with the visual and material properties of the domestic interior in early modern England, and how might we analyse and represent those experiences in the present. To focus this network we have selected decorative textiles with figurative imagery as a case study because these objects raise particular questions about the dynamics of perception: narrative (reading), visual (form and colour) and material (texture). Decorative textiles were the most ubiquitous form of domestic furnishing in early modern England but few survive and the extant objects present significant challenges for interpretation, conservation, display and presentation (for example, they are particularly vulnerable to damage and surface deterioration caused by light and touch).

As well as accommodating the practical needs of everyday life, domestic interiors of any size during the period 1500-1700 were decorated and furnished to express a range of concerns including wealth, identity, belief, education, gender, taste and fashion. Yet scholarship and museum practice has focused overwhelmingly on describing the form, techniques and appearance of domestic buildings and furnishings without probing the culturally-specific and multi-sensory forms of perception that informed interpretation and experience of this environment. It is therefore necessary to establish a dedicated research network to investigate ways of studying how contemporaries would have perceived and engaged with their material surroundings.

This subject requires sustained multi-disciplinary investigation because of the extent of its implications for academic research, museums practice and public impact. Understanding the domestic context for everyday life is not only an emergent area of academic attention and debate, it is also a central interest of visitors to museums and historic properties who want to gain a meaningful experience of period interiors based on current understanding of their physical and conceptual authenticity. Through a series of workshops, a conference, special issue of a leading academic journal and series of podcasts, this network aims to facilitate innovative and collaborative cross-disciplinary approaches to researching the history of the domestic interior and inform new directions for display and presentation.

The network crosses the boundaries between Humanities and Science disciplines to exchange knowledge about historical artefacts and environments and explore the possible applications of new expertise, technologies and methods in psychology, neuroscience, computing and digital archaeology, which enable investigation of the specificity of visual perception in relation to particular objects and settings (for example, new developments in mobile eye-tracking) and through the digital reconstruction and simulation of historic environments.

The network comprises 17 experts including researchers on domestic interiors and/or textiles in the disciplines of English, History, Art history and Archaeology; researchers on visual perception in the cognitive sciences; computer scientists; conservators, curators and heritage professionals who are also researchers in this area. We will also engage postgraduate students starting work in this field in workshop activities and in progressing the impact aims. The network facilitates exchange across 14 institutions including 6 universities and 7 national and regional museums.

Planned Impact

Beneficiaries within the museums and heritage sector:

The beneficiaries of this project outside the academic research community include individuals within the museums and heritage sector who will be able to use the results of the network's research and findings to enhance a wide range of activities surrounding the interpretation and presentation of their collections of culturally significant historic buildings and objects. Findings will be communicated to them both through the individuals directly involved in network meetings and through dedicated online forums such as the Histories of Home SSN.

Beneficiaries within the wider public:

The outputs of this project will benefit the wider public of visitors to museums and heritage properties by stimulating interest in and improving knowledge about the domestic interior. As the project will improve knowledge about and access to the surviving material evidence of the early modern period by expanding and enhancing the resources that are publicly available for interpretation of our national heritage, there is considerable potential for this research to enhance both quality of life and creative output.

The research will impact directly on primary- and secondary-level education as it is concerned with the stories we tell about history using the rich legacy of objects that survive from the past, and makes the Tudor/Stuart/Shakespearean era more tangible for students. Close working relations between the network participants and education departments within the key partner museums will ensure communication of relevant research findings from the project to the staff involved in the learning programmes. The network events and findings will also be communicated to the wider public through online resources of the key partner museums including specially-recorded podcasts of selected material from the workshops.

The realistic timescales for these benefits to be realised are within the second year of the project and beyond, as research is disseminated through outputs such as the workshops, on-line forums, as well as the publication of the special issue of Textile History. But there are also lasting benefits in relation to the increased profile of the partners' national and regional collections, a greater store of knowledge and improved resources, which will continue to benefit and impact on the experience of a range of constituencies within the wider public who access information about museums and historic houses through physical and virtual channels.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Reconstructing the early modern domestic interior. 
Description This film explores the relationship between documentary history, standing buildings, current craft practice and digital media in the study of historic interiors as visitor attractions. It considers how textiles worked within early modern domestic interiors - what their visual impact was and how their original viewers might have responded to them - through a case study: the process of creating a new painted cloth for Bayleaf, a late medieval open-hall house at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, Chichester. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Increased visitor engagement, response and understanding of the function of domestic interiors, leading to increased visitor numbers at the Museum; increased student engagement with research methodologies for early modern material culture studies. 
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUd_vBFlxs4
 
Description We have developed a research network of researchers in the humanities and sciences, conservators, museums curators and heritage professionals who have shared techniques and practices for the analysis and presentation of historic domestic interiors. Working together, we have undertaken research that has demonstrated how textiles worked within early modern domestic interiors - what their visual impact was and how their original viewers might have responded to them - and brought us closer to understanding how household spaces functioned in Shakespearean England.
Exploitation Route The findings are already influencing heritage practice by shaping the way those who manage historic properties approach their display, and there is scope for this aspect of the project's impact to expand. In addition, there is scope for our findings about the experience of household life in the time of Shakespeare to be used in all levels of education from school to university, and for creative responses to be made to these findings which allow further exploration of domestic life.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.kent.ac.uk/mems/domestic%20interior.html
 
Description The network included humanities and science researchers from six UK universities working in conjunction with conservators, museum curators and heritage professionals. This dialogue has directly benefitted non-HEI researchers, cultural institutions and the wider public by informing new directions for display and presentation in historic houses. It has helped curators of historic properties to interpret the spaces and objects in their care, to understand early modern methods of engaging with domestic interiors, and to explore new ways of presenting them to the public. Particular examples of the influence of network discussions on display practice include Bayleaf House at the Weald and Downland Museum and the discussions around Shakespeare's Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

 
Description Influence on practice at the Weald and Downland Museum
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description "Material Culture in Context" workshop, Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 'Working Things', "Material Culture in Context" workshop, Cambridge, run by the research project "The Role of Wealth in Defining and Constituting Kinship Spaces from 16th to the
18th Century", funded by the FWF Austrian Science Fund and based at the University of Vienna. Discussion of some findings and approaches with members of this project and interested research students and RAs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description 'Digital Heritage and the Study of the Past' seminar series, Charles University, Prague 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 'Early modern English domestic interiors - digital methods', paper given in 'Digital Heritage and the Study of the Past' seminar series, Charles University, Prague, with full discussion of our methods.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description 'Domestic?Sphere in Europe, 16th to 19th Century' conference, Switzerland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 'Leisure and the Household' at 'Domestic Sphere in Europe, 16th to 19th Century' Schloss Schadau, Thun, Switzerland, with full discussion of our methods with leaders of other projects about domestic life from across Europe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.hsozkult.de/event/id/termine-34828
 
Description 'Work and Leisure: domestic behaviour and the quotidian spaces of service', London Renaissance Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation of network findings to varied group of students, archivists and academics which led to questions and discussions and some follow-up of network issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description At Home with the British, with Dan Cruickshank, BBC4 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Part of the programme on the cottage, including interview about evidence for the household, At Home with the British, with Dan Cruickshank, BBC4 (filmed October 2015, aired 2016, 2017).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07c645b
 
Description Christopher Gilbert Lecture for the Regional Furniture Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A lecture for the Regional Furniture Society which presented network findings to this national body that brings together owners, enthusiasts and museum professionals. It sparked question and discussion and has led to some follow-up contact with museums.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://regionalfurnituresociety.org/
 
Description Colour conference, Weald and Downland Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Around 40 members of the public and heritage professionals attended a talk based on the findings of the network.

High levels of interest in the research behind the Museum's new work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Institute of Historical Research Winter Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Panel at the 'Home: new histories of living' conference at the Institute of Historical Research Winter Conference, on 'Reconstructions: imagining domestic experience'. Around 100 participants from heritage and academic backgrounds discussed with the panel how best to reconstruct historic spaces.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://winterconference.blogs.sas.ac.uk/
 
Description KCL opening lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 'Between the street and the household', launch lecture for King's College London Centre for Early Modern Studies, attended by over 100 and now online; sparked questions and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/ahri/eventrecords/2015-2016/CEMS/cemslaunch.aspx
 
Description Medieval and Early Modern Research Network seminar, Glasgow 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation of network findings to varied group of students, archivists and academics which led to questions and discussions and some follow-up of network issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Nantes Material Culture Colloquium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote lecture at International symposium at which an interdisciplinary method for analysing domestic materiality was discussed amongst colleages from France and Spain.

Initial discussion about collaboration with French colleagues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Oxford Relation of Literature and Learning to Social Hierarchy in Early Modern Europe Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Paper given in the seminar series on 'Assessing the learning of the early modern English middling sort: material and textual sources', with full discussion of our methods.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.torch.ox.ac.uk/relation-literature-and-learning-social-hierarchy-early-modern-europe-2
 
Description TV appearance (Dan Cruickshank) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Discussion of domestic life as part of series: 'Dan Cruickshank: At Home With The British' - Thursday 19th May, 9pm - BBC4
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07c645b
 
Description Talk at Leverhulme-funded project meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 'Materialising Routine in the Early Modern Middling Household' Weald and Downland Open Air Museum and Leverhulme Trust-funded Women's Work Project KE Workshop; attendance by museum staff and volunteers; sparked questions and discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Ways of Seeing the English Domestic Interior, 1500-1700 Final Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Members of the network presented findings at a conference involving other heritage practitioners and academics.

Other institutions joined the network and plans were made to implement some of the findings and to engage in future projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.kent.ac.uk/mems/domestic%20interior.html?tab=final-conference