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.