Possession: Objects and Ownership in Early Modern England, 1650-1750

Tutor: Natasha Glaisyer

Module type: Special Subject

Module code: HIS00043H

Between 1650 and 1750 English society saw the emergence of a new world of goods which transformed many areas of people’s lives. Some say that this period saw the birth of the consumer society. This field has inspired exciting and innovative research and this period is at the forefront of work incorporating analysis of material culture into accounts of ordinary people’s lives.

Drawing on this work we will explore the buying, stealing, borrowing, inheriting, giving and display of objects in England in 1650-1750. The seminars focus not only on the ways in which objects were acquired, but also at the ways they were adapted and used, at patterns of ownership in different social groups, and at what objects and their acquisition can tell us about the ties between people, the history of comfort, and notions of luxury, necessity and connoisseurship.

The sources drawn upon will be very diverse, and we take full advantage of the extraordinary range of primary material available in York. We will draw on diaries and letters, on printed texts (through Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online) as well as newspapers and tradecards (available online). We will also work with court records (in particular the Proceedings of the Old Bailey online), and with original inventories and wills through seminars in the the Borthwick Institute. We will consult the collections of National Museums using their websites, and we will hope to work with objects in the Castle Museum in York.

Seminars will consider a mixture of particular objects and broader themes. We look at primary sources throughout the module.

    • People 
    • Introducing approaches and debates
    • Books
    • Shops, pedlars, auctions, markets
    • Clocks and mirrors
    • Patterns of ownership
    • Furniture
    • Inheritance and wills and probate inventories
    • Thieving
    • Clothing
    • Material culture of the coffee house
    • Representing the domestic interior
    • Pots and pans
    • Contemporary attitudes to consumption
    • York Castle Museum (to be confirmed)
    • Gifts, collecting and display
    • Looking back


For more information, please visit the module catalogue