Subproject A: Material Culture and Consumption

Supervisor: Jon Mathieu
Researcher: Anne Schillig

This dissertation project investigates housing in Switzerland during the transition period from early modern to modern society. The project sets out from source material on vernacular architecture collected by the long-term programme Schweizerische Bauernhausforschung (Swiss Rural Building Research), adds to this evidence with selected items and relates them to the socio-spatial organisation of households and house-dwellers. The main question concerns the transformation of domestic relations as reflected in material culture. Raffaella Sarti describes her project as a “history of the family from the point of view of its material culture and, at the same time, a history of material culture that takes on the viewpoint of the family.“ By using the Swiss documentation as a starting point, the present project aims at adopting a similar perspective for the 18th and 19th centuries. This will allow housing to be used as one indicator for the metamorphoses of household and family during the Sattelzeit. The project will apply a case-study approach, organised in three steps: 1) The researcher will screen the available information on rural housing and filter out a considerable number of promising objects that can be used for documenting the structures and changes of housing in the period under study. 2) The information gathered will be completed by further archival work; for practical reasons of identification, the building insurance numbers will be used, which often allow the houses to be linked to documents of ownership and to cadastral registers. The cases with the maximum of context knowledge on social and economic relations of the house dwellers will be retained in the sample that will now be reduced to a manageable size. 3) The findings of this enquiry on Swiss housing will be synthesised and analysed with regard to current family research. At each of these three steps in the research the emphasis will be on the temporal dimension, thus not on regionality as in most of the previous and current work of Schweizerische Bauernhäuser. From this angle we will be able to focus on processes of differentiation and reallocation of space in the house reflecting historical changes in the domestic sphere. What do the processes and boundary shifts tell us about the importance of age, gender, kinship, privacy, accessibilty for outsiders and other aspects – in short about the social tissue and hierarchy of domestic groups in transition to modern society?

Supervisor: Joachim Eibach
Researcher: Eric Häusler

With regard to the changing modes of Doing house and family, the leading question of this Subproject is how the material culture of the domestic micro-space was arranged and rearranged in the course of the long 18th century. With the so-called ‘Geltstagsrödel’ of Bern we have access to a homogeneous series of several hundred bankruptcy inventories which run without interruption from the 17th century until 1831. The researcher has easy access to this mass of sources through an archival catalogue which lists all cases of bankruptcy inventories in Bern in alphabetical order with the names of the families and their professions. Unlike probate inventories, ‘Geltstagsrödel’ of bankrupt households include all-encompassing inventories of the possessions of all strata, ranging from day labourers and artisans to well-known patricians. All objects are listed in great detail and with a precise indication of their value, often room by room, which allows us to reconstruct the material and the spatial arrangements of the domestic sphere. Moreover, according to the Bernese statutes, the belongings of wives, the ‘Weibergut’, had to be listed separately. In some cases, even the condition of the objects due to their everyday use is mentioned. Furthermore, lists with the names of the creditors are included. Hence, regarding the aspect of financial support it will be possible to reconstruct the social environment of the household and analyse changing roles of neighbours, kin, friends and others. Of central concern for this subproject are the changing social diffusion of goods and the respective transformation of domesticity. Based on the quantitative and qualitative study of the ‘Gelstagsrödel’, the subproject deals with questions of functional differentiation and spatial reallocation. Did domestic settings transform into several spheres and ‘stages’ (E. Goffman), such as professional sphere (workshop, office), a new sphere of quasi-public sociability and display (parlour, upper lounge) and another also new sphere of privacy and domesticity (closet, well-furnished bedchambers, nursery), each of them endowed with specific everyday objects? Secondly, the question of spatial differentiation applies to the formation of separate gender spheres, spheres for the different generations and not least for domestic servants. Thirdly, the question of social differentiation in the domestic sphere applies to consumption. So far, we may assume that the formation of different styles and tastes oscillated between the scarcity of the urban poor and luxuries of the middling sort.

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.