The Importance of British Material Culture to Historical Archaeologies of the Nineteenth Century

The Importance of British Material Culture to Historical Archaeologies of the Nineteenth Century

The Importance of British Material Culture to Historical Archaeologies of the Nineteenth Century

The Importance of British Material Culture to Historical Archaeologies of the Nineteenth Century

Synopsis

Britain was the industrial and political powerhouse of the nineteenth century--the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and the center of the largest empire of the time. With its broad imperial reach--and even broader indirect influence--Britain had a major impact on nineteenth-century material culture worldwide. Because British manufactured goods were widespread in British colonies and beyond, a more nuanced understanding of those goods can enhance the archaeological study of the people who used them far beyond Britain's shores. However, until recently archaeologists have given relatively little attention to such goods in Britain itself, thereby missing what is often revealing and useful contextual information for historical archaeologists working in countries where British goods were consumed while also leaving significant portions of Britain's own archaeological record poorly understood.
The Importance of British Material Culture to Historical Archaeologies of the Nineteenth Century helps fill these gaps, through case studies demonstrating the importance and meaning of mass-produced material culture in Britain from the birth of the Industrial Revolution (mid-1700s) to early World War II. By examining many disparate items--such as ceramics made for export, various goods related to food culture, Scottish land documents, and artifacts of death--these studies enrich both an understanding of Britain itself and the many places it influenced during the height of its international power.

Excerpt

The present volume, which expands on a session originally held at the 2010 Society for Historical Archaeology conference at Amelia Island Plantation, Florida, is, in part, a response to a series of observations on the role of British material culture within archaeological studies of the 19th century. the first observation is the simple historical point that Britain was the industrial and political powerhouse of the 19th century, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, and the center of the largest empire of the day (Porter 2001). Its global economic and political influence during that century therefore plays an important role in understanding the archaeology of the 19th century.

The second, closely related, observation is that Britain’s industrial manufacturing capacity, political importance, and centrality to global trade networks of the time all mean that 19th-century British material culture is an important component of 19th-century domestic assemblages around the world. This is true even in such superficially unlikely places as Iceland (Sveinbjarnardóttir 1996), the Torres Strait Islands between the Australian mainland and Papua New Guinea (Ash et al. 2008), the Mosquito Coast of Honduras (Cheek and Gonzalez 1986), the Persian Gulf (Brooks 2014:433–434), or the East African island of Zanzibar (Croucher 2011). Even in the 19thcentury United States, which had its own important manufacturing base, British and British-influenced objects feature in most domestic archaeological assemblages from the period, as any quick survey of the archaeological literature will immediately reveal.

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