lead researchers

Leonie Hannan – History, Anthropology, Politics & Philosophy, Queen’s University, Belfast

I work on the social and cultural history of seventeenth- and eighteenth- century England, Ireland and North America with a focus on gender, material culture, intellectual life and the early modern household. I completed my doctoral research at the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London in 2009. This project explored the role of letter-writing in women’s engagement with the life of the mind and argued that the material processes of correspondence affected the traffic of ideas in this period. The research took an inclusive approach in its definition of intellectual activity, which facilitated the examination of diverse forms of self-education, self-development and scholarship. This study culminated in a book:Women of Letters: Gender, Writing and the Life of the Mind in Early Modern England which is published with Manchester University Press. Since 2009, I have expanded my investigation of epistolary practices in two ways: by looking at the material culture of writing and by examining how epistolary networks supporting antiquarian enquiry functioned socially and geographically.

My current research focuses on the practice of scientific enquiry as it took place in the eighteenth-century home. Whilst histories of science have identified the genteel household as an important site for scientific experiment, they have tended to do so via the particular biographies of important men of science.  This study takes the material culture of the home as its starting point and investigate the tools within reach of early modern householders in their search for knowledge. Taking the extensive span of years encompassed by ‘the long eighteenth century’, from c.1660 to 1830, this research engages with the important shifts in scientific thought that emerged in the seventeenth century. In particular, it references the change in emphasis towards personal experience of phenomena, physical contact with artefacts, and the development of instruments that could help expand knowledge. This ethos, which encouraged sensory engagement with objects of study, proved a fertile environment for those who wished to move between cooking and chemistry, transferring knowledge, technique and equipment from one task to the next. This research therefore treats intellectual work as just one of many household rituals and, by doing so, illuminates new connections between the domestic and the investigative.

Kate Smith – History, University of Birmingham

As an historian of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Britain and empire, I am interested in the ways in which historical actors produced, consumed, and derived meaning from, the material world. In my first monograph Material Goods, Moving Hands: Perceiving Production in England, 1700-1830, I argued that Britain’s new consumer goods were important not only in fostering desire and demand but also in prompting people to engage with visual and textual representations of manufacturing, forging a link between the consuming and producing cultures of eighteenth-century Britain.

In The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 project I explored consumer cultures in a global and imperial context. On their return to Britain, families such as the Amhersts of Montreal Park used different material practices, including building projects, collecting, painting and the display of objects purchased in India, to curate complex narratives of empire.  At the same time, other families used the meanings and emotions connected with shared objects (such as houses) to negotiate ideas of belonging and home across the ever-greater distances imposed by Britain’s imperial projects.

My second monograph project Absent Objects: Lost Property in the Long Eighteenth Century grows out of my research on imperial families, which revealed loss as a major preoccupation in Britain and its empire. In the next few years, I plan to examine loss – particularly the impact of loss on relationships between people and their property – as an important and neglected aspect of everyday life and practice in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain. I’m particularly interested in the ways that loss, possession, urban space and material culture intersect and will be developing a history of lost property, to reveal how loss shaped the ways in which urban denizens navigated concepts of property and propriety in the multivalent spaces of Britain’s modern metropolis.

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