The World by the Thames: Global Materiality and Elite Self-Fashioning in the Seventeenth-Century Collections of Ham House, Surrey

Lead Research Organisation: The Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Arts and Social Sci (FASS)


Giorgio Riello argues de Hooch's Leisure Time in Elegant Company with its Turkish carpet, tobacco, beaver hat and porcelain exemplifies the power of global goods in early modern interiors as expressions of status. In Ham's collection we can move beyond painted images to analyse a seventeenth-century interior in situ. Working a season at Ham I read the global everywhere; from the porcelain and japanned furniture in the gallery to images of Van Dyck and Charles II with sunflower and pineapple. My mind drifted to the Lauderdale's connection to the RAC on sight of the portrait of Elizabeth with African attendant and I wondered what Asian spices or American roots entered her posset or still house. During this PhD I wish to investigate the origins of the collection before extrapolating what this unique set of objects can tell us about the significance of global goods to elite self-fashioning.

This work will fit into the expanding field of global material culture. As well as testing to Riello's claims, this work will also provide a comparative accompaniment to Nuno Senos's work upon empire within the inventories of the 5th Duke of Bragança. Ham House provides an opportunity to test and extend Working's thesis of the significance of Atlantic world goods to the politics and culture of the Lauderdales' London with an analysis of goods from both the Americas and Asia. This work will also build upon Misha Ewen's analysis of the Newfoundland porcelain collections of two well-connected sisters. In her analysis of archaeological survivals of European and Chinese pottery she found a gendered expression colonial power.

This expanding scholarly literature poses questions that I shall seek to answer in the PhD. Beyond seeking out the origins of the house I am interested in what this work can tell us about the ambiguous use of 'Indian' in collection inventory. If it could refer to goods from the Caribbean, India, Japan or New Mexico did these regions and their products sit in the same space in the English imagination? Furthermore, were such global goods an elite shorthand for involvement in colonial enterprise in both the east and west? Considering the importance of Elizabeth within the history of the

house, I would also like to better understand whether we can read her agency in the collection. Was Ham's collection a gendered expression of the family's wealth and connection? Can we read in the house a woman's involvement in imperial thinking and colonial projects?


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