CFP: [Victorian] Material Possessions: The Objects and Textures of Everyday Life in Imperial Britain (Collection)

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Deirdre McMahon
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Material Possessions:
The 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.

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Received on Thu Aug 02 2007 - 00:47:28 EDT

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