Supervisor: Sandro Guzzi-Heeb
Researcher: Tatiana di Dio
The concept of ‘material culture’ has proved to be very productive for historical studies. The present subproject aims to reconstruct the domestic material culture of 18th- and 19th-century rural communities in the French-speaking parts of Switzerland, primarily by the study of classical written sources such as probate estate inventories, notary records and selected sources from family archives. During the transitional period which is the focus here, the architectural patrimony of Switzerland developed in a very significant way. Several accounts shed light on the impact of proto-industrialisation on the material culture, and thereby especially its influence on houses and different forms of dwelling. In the course of this transformation we can detect a new material comfort in, firstly, newly constructed houses, secondly, the enlargement of existing buildings and, thirdly, a functional differentiation within the house. Related to gaining a better understanding of changes in material culture are several relevant tasks. Economic history has emphasised the importance of new consumption patterns for the emergence of the ‘industrious revolution’ (de Vries). Accompanying changes in the gendered roles of women and men must be considered carefully. Moreover, the social diffusion of certain objects, like clocks and watches, can be regarded as an indicator for ‘luxury’, for the circulation of knowledge and new attitudes towards time. In this changing context, consumption was not only a matter of economic survival, but also of representation of wealth, prestige and influence. In fact, the attempt to control consumption and to limit ‘luxury’ is a well-known political issue in many early modern Swiss cities and cantons. The project will compare two different regions: a) the communities between St-Imier and the Val de Travers in the Jura region of the Principality of Neuchâtel, deeply involved since the beginning of the 18th century with the diffusion of proto-industrial clock- and watchmaking; and b) the district of Martigny and the Entremont in Western Valais, an agrarian region where proto-industry did not have any relevant impact. The research will concentrate first on the demographic development and on spatial patterns of settlement. In this perspective, local studies, cadastral maps, and census rolls provide excellent information about both the architectural development and the distribution of individuals and households within buildings during the period 1700–1850. The second crucial phase of research will then focus on estate and probate inventories as important markers of the transformation of the material culture in patrimonies. Additionally, some selected family archives and sources regarding trade, fairs, local handicraft and the distribution of shops will provide more information about the circulation of money and the incidence of non-agricultural economy in the selected regions and communities. Of course, the aim of the project is not to make use of all available documents between 1700 and 1850, but rather to concentrate on suitable samples, which form the basis for outlining the long-term developments of domestic consumption and exchange.