Making Time Material: Dated Objects in Early Modern England
Saucepans, dog collars, nutcrackers and shoe brushes – this is just a selection of early modern domestic objects that have survived inscribed with dates. From the late sixteenth century there was a significant rise in the number of dated objects. Dates might be engraved, painted, or moulded onto an object. Most were added at the time of making, although many were re-engraved or re-fired later in their existence as they were re-appropriated by new owners. Whilst the presence of dates on these objects is often mentioned in passing by historians and curators, few have looked deeper into their larger significance. Why was there a desire to mark the passing of time on material surroundings? And what can dated objects tell us about early modern ideas of time?
Alongside a contextual investigation into contemporary perceptions of time and memory, in my research I have also used the theories of George Kubler to think more conceptually about the meaning of dated objects. In his 1962 work, The Shape of Time, Kubler argued that the durations occupied by objects are much longer than biological life-spans, reaching far back and stretching infinitely forward. Some artefacts are so durable that they might even be able to surpass time. With objects occupying a much longer continuum, ideally outliving their makers or owners, we could see these dates as personal markers on the sea of time, not unlike graffiti.
School of Humanities
MA History of Design, 2014
- BA (Hons) History, University of Cambridge, 2012
- Project assistant, Dated Objects, Crab Tree Farm, Chicago, 2013–2014; Freelance researcher, Crab Tree Farm, Chicago, 2013; Collections intern, Soho House Museum, Birmingham, 2012; Collections volunteer, Cambridge and County Folk Museum, Cambridge, 2011–2012
- The Oliver Ford Trust Scholarship, 2012–2014; Gillian Naylor Essay Prize, 2013