Household Books Published in Britain
The Household Book Project digitizes and makes available on-line leading bibliographies of household material 1475-1914: household medicine and technology, care of the sick, elderly, and children, etiquette and behavior, treatment of servants, the preservation, conservation, preparation, consumption and management of food. It addresses sociocultural attitudes to household work, including class structure, technology, education of women, global colonialism, racialisation of service, and gendered responsibility.
The first two volumes by Dena Attar (1800-1914) and Elizbeth Driver (1875-1914) are now available through this website. Use the indices and Advanced Search menus to the left to expore these two volumes, independently or together.
The Project makes it possible to put flesh on the bones of history, the sociocultural contexts for literature, the arts, sciences and technology. It enables users to conduct simple searches for information within the field, more complex investigation into the content of the materials, and locations for and access to primary research sources for more detailed essays and presentations.
While there are many particular ‘issues’ that this work could address, such as the effects on the household of British global colonialism from the eighteenth century to the beginning of its collapse at the end of the nineteenth, or the increasing racialisation that occurs as ideals of service move toward the practicalities of servants from the end of the sixteenth century into the seventeenth, the most important ‘problem’ is lack of easy access to the information, and access that encourages students to find the process of self-guided study and research both fun and fulfilling.
Household technology from the beginning of the modern era to the start of World War I changed significantly. Its history is directly related to the privatization of middle class women within the home, to the creation of a domestic servant class made up primarily of women from lower classes and women of color. The growth of the British colonial enterprise was intimately tied to the construction of household management and the relationships that it secured with colonized peoples and the household organization in colonized countries. The diversity issues are incalculable: they help understand the role of the family in the early nation state and in support of capitalist economics, as a result they are related to the development of class structure in western liberal nations, to the patriarchal oppression of women, the disempowerment of the elderly and the sick, and the positioning of children as without human rights. The structure of the household, and the technological advances that underpinned it, was integral to the silencing of those not included in the special rights advanced to men of white color, largely Christian religion, and usually with property. The strategies used to gain these special rights (ironically, and bitterly, called ‘human rights’ to this day) were used to legitimate the deprivation of rights for people of color, people of different ability, in fact any person not fitting the ‘special’ category. At its most political this material in the hands of a good teacher can put flesh on the bones of the theory.
Some of that flesh includes: different ways of dealing with the sick – have you failed when someone becomes ill (ie failed to keep them healthy), or are you responsible simply for making them get better (and, was getting ill their own fault?). Until well into the twentieth century, women in the household were responsible for maintaining the health of the family.
Some of that flesh includes: different ways of eating, different foodstuffs, different concepts of cleanliness. Many of our contemporary issues with social and cultural diversity are based in simple daily activities such as ‘shaking hands’ - do you do it at all? if so, which hand do you use? and why? questions often related to food and the body. Understanding the historical background to actions and beliefs is a first step toward understanding practices different from one’s own, and a first step toward addressing diversity.
Some of that flesh includes: offering role models from the past of people who faced up to and dealt with complex situations and sometimes appalling conditions. People such as ‘Anonymous,’ the author of a book of household medicine directed at the commonwealth of people who could not afford doctors (1536), or Hannah Wolley, one of the first women to openly trade in household goods (1660s onward), or Thomas Tryon, a doctor who treated the poor of London (1680-1700) and advocated Hindu vegetarianism, Elizabeth Raffald, a hugely successful inn owner (1730s-50s), Mary Seacole, a British African nurse who served in the Crimea (1840s), Catherine Parr Traill, an emigrant to the Canadian bush who defined a way of life for generations (1840s), Alexis Soyer a chef to Queen Victoria who wrote guides to food preparation for the Irish famine victims (1850s), Catherine Buxton, who ran a mobile teaching unit to train people in using gas ranges and lighting throughout the north of England (1870s), and so on. In pragmatic terms the material the Project will make available will open up specific areas of people’s lives that can be linked to course material in many areas, and that provide direct access to understanding underrepresented areas of sociocultural life. The social media component of the bibliography will further increase students’ understanding of cultural differences as students react to their findings on-line.