chapter  III
5 Pages

III.15 Household objects


Even humble utilitarian objects could be turned to profound uses as part of an early modern tendency to read and treat things in symbolic terms. Catherine Richardson has established how material ‘things were good for thinking with in early modern England – the physical form of objects was always a starting point for considering the nature of humanity, its sorrows and joys and the strength and quality of its relationships’.1 Thus, as well as prompting specific forms of intellectual reflection, everyday things could appeal to a range of emotional responses – love, fellowship, loss, trepidation, hope, pride. Objects were good for thinking and feeling with in the early modern period and the context of the home, the principal site for daily experience and interactions with possessions, is therefore an important area for the history of emotions. It is only when objects are understood and studied as ‘things in action’– addressing their forms, uses and trajectories – that we can begin to appreciate in a more nuanced way their significance to people in the past.2 Alfred Gell’s theory of ‘distributed personhood’ is particularly useful in understanding how crafted objects function as indexes of a person’s thoughts and desires, existing simultaneously as material forms and as intentions, to mediate social relationships and influence the behaviour of others.3