CFP: Material Posessions

From H-Museum:

Call for papers (Collection)

"Material Possessions: Objects and Textures of Everyday Life in Imperial Britain"

Focusing on the materiality of everyday life in nineteenth-century Britain and its imperial possessions, this collection seeks essay submissions that move Victorian material studies beyond the museum to demonstrate how preoccupations with the shape and form of common household goods and domestic habits lay at the heart of Victorian-era debates about cultural institutions ranging from personal matters of marriage and family to the more overtly political issues of empire building. While existing scholarship on material culture has centered on nineteenth-century artifacts in museums and galleries, this collection shifts its focus to the practices of everyday life. Through prosaic habits of shopping, housekeeping, and child rearing as well as rituals of tea drinking, holiday excursions, and Christmas celebrations, Britons of all classes established, sometimes inadvertently, the tenets of domesticity as central to individual happiness, national security, and imperial hegemony.

As is now widely understood, however, the Victorians? sense of domestic surety was by no means secure. The beauty products, advice columns, and emigration pamphlets marketed toward middle-class spinsters after the census of 1841 speak to the social and political functions of matrimony as a means of cultural reproduction and to the ways that domestic matters impacted colonial policy. Similarly, a perceived crisis of identity among the British laboring classes prompted spectacular displays of industrial and imperial wares in the Great Exhibition of 1851. In the Great Stink of 1855 noxious effluvia from the Thames closed Parliament, raising further specters about disease, urban planning, and household management at the heart of the imperial metropole. We contend that studies of the material traces of these and other less notable historical sites will provide significant links between homes and museums, between household management and political agency at home and in the empire, and between individual acts of conspicuous display and collective pressures toward conformity. This materialist approach amounts to a rethinking of Victorian cultural formation via the domestic.

We see Material Possessions as addressing the political, economic, psychological, and material practices that allowed nineteenth-century Britons to reassert British identity in an imperial age and, in the process, to refashion the most private aspects of England?s public culture. We anticipate analyses of key objects and practices, as well as a wide range of literary and extraliterary sources, including novels, household manuals, advertisements, illustrated newspapers, pattern books, song lyrics, street maps, playbills, blueprints, scientific treatises, and government reports. We especially encourage essays that use material studies to address the stability and stabilizing structures of life at home, when home itself is increasingly freighted by imperial sojourns, colonial return, class conflict, and gender concerns.

Submissions from English, history, art history, anthropology, law, family studies, and other relevant disciplines, as well as interdisciplinary analyses, are welcome. Please direct questions or submissions of 1000- to 1500-word abstracts as well as a short vita to both editors, Dr. Janet Myers, Elon University ( and Dr. Deirdre McMahon, Saint Joseph?s University ( The deadline for abstracts is October 15, 2007; the deadline for accepted essays (approx. 5,000-8,000 words) will be March 15, 2008.

Dr. Deirdre McMahon
Department of English
Saint Joseph's University

Dr. Janet Myers
Department of English
Elon University

Email: ,


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