Archaeology of Emotions
One of the ways that I am endeavouring to develop archaeological studies of domestic violence is to examine the grave memorials of women murdered by their husbands; of men who murdered their wives; and of men murdered by their wives, in the 17th – early 20th centuries. For the time being, I’m concentrating upon Derbyshire burials (as this area forms the primary geographical focus for PSP work), although I will expand into the East Midlands region, and probably beyond to Adderbury (Oxfordshire), Ancaster (Lincolnshire), and perhaps London and Bristol.[i]
The main aim of this exercise is to consider whether, and if so, how, the memorials (or other aspects of burial, such as placement of grave within burial grounds) of victims and perpetrators of homicide in the home may have differed as a group to those of men and women who died of ‘natural causes’. Where possible (as when studying other aspects of violence in the home for PSP), I’ll use the range of historical and archaeological sources together to investigate the social and cultural backgrounds of those involved.
Although I’ve only just begun this research, and will need to analyse a substantial number of cases before even tentative conclusions might be made, some interesting patterns of behaviour that might shed light on attitudes to violence are evident. I began by trawling the press for reports of ‘wife murder’ within the PSP study areas (beginning with Derbyshire), and by consulting court records. Before embarking on this task, I anticipated that I would encounter perpetrators of this crime through reports of their imprisonment and capital punishment. And, as for much of the 19th century the county gaol (like other large prisons) incorporated a graveyard within which its felons were buried after their death, I expected that few murderers would have been buried within community graveyards.[ii]
However, in the cases that I have so far found reported within local and regional newspapers, a high proportion of husbands committed suicide either immediately after murdering their wives, or when imprisoned. The sample is at this stage small, confined to a particular period (as I work my way through the archives), and of course this combination of crimes may have attracted greater attention in the press, in seeking to appeal to a readership greedy for sensational and macabre incidents. But, these initial examples suggest that it may be profitable to explore the frequency, and temporal and spatial extent, of such a practice, and to consider how it might relate to broader attitudes regarding power and shame, religious belief, and to the ways in which gender was structured.
After discovering murder cases within the newspapers, I use the census and BMD data to find out more about those involved, so that I might determine when and where perpetrators and victims may be buried. Where possible, I’ll examine existing graveyard plans and surveys to see whereabouts within burial grounds their graves might be, and any information on gravestones or other markers – the most efficient approach. But while I’m arranging to access such information (which may take a while), I’m visiting the various graveyards that might be of significance to these cases. (As part of other research, I often visit graveyards to consider burial and memorial practices, so at this stage merely keep my eyes open for the graves of any individuals associated with each case, such as family members, employers, etc.: I’ve uploaded photos of the ongoing graveyard ‘reccies’ I’ve been doing for other research on Flickr, here.)
The drawback is that most of the murders recorded in the press are by and of lower status individuals, the graves of many of which, for much of the period, were not commonly marked by memorials.[iii] But finding gravestones of other family members (of comparable economic standing) may provoke interesting questions regarding memory, family and community, and violent death. I’ll provide an overview of these field-trips, and of other information I might discover, as and when possible, here (tagged ‘Death and Burial’).
[i] Although these locations are (due to financial constraints) determined more by family ties, than the systematic selection of sites for comparison outside the study area, their spread is fortuitous, enabling contrasts to be made between urban and rural, coastal and interior, large and small villages, towns, and cities, and agricultural and industrial local economies.
[ii] Derby County Gaol was located on South Street, facing the end of Vernon Street (both off Friar Gate); I have written a little about the prison on another blog, not only due to my interests in crime and punishment (see ‘Death Comes to Pemberley: Crime and Punishment in 19th Century Derby’), but because it was (and still is) an important site with regard to my family (and own) history (see ‘Researching Communities of Crime and Punishment in 19th – early 20th century Derby’ ).
The situation differed before the 1832 Anatomy Act, which transferred the supply of cadavers for dissection by anatomy schools, hospitals, surgeons, and artists from the remains of murderers punished by hanging for their crime, to those who died within workhouses, and whose relatives either did or could not claim their remains and pay for their burial (see e.g. Ruth Richardson 1988 Death, Dissection and the Destitute; Louise Fowler & Natasha Powers (eds.) 2012 Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection).
[iii] See e.g. Ruth Richardson 1987 Death, Dissection and the Destitute; Sarah Tarlow 1999 Bereavement and commemoration: an archaeology of mortality; Julian Litten 2002 The English Way of Death: The Common Funeral Since 1450; Julie-Marie Strange 2005 Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870-1914.
Archaeological experience has shown the importance of providing a historical perspective when studying a particular issue, at a certain point in time – including the recent past. I’ll (very briefly) discuss this – and the importance of studying the local in relationship to wider spacial contexts – in the following post. But for now, I’ll outline the primary written sources of the 19th and early 20th centuries that I’ve begun to consult in researching histories of domestic violence within and beyond the East Midlands.
Notwithstanding the above comments, to some degree I’m also reflecting upon the sources with regard to my own experiences and encounters (which I intend to outline in the future) – see the previous and following posts, for brief discussions on this topic.
Following the 19th – early 20th century paper trail – the route travelled so far…
I began exploring written evidence for DV in the past several years ago, when examining the works of ‘undercover’ investigative journalist and social reformer, Ada Chesterton, for references to domestic material culture within poverty-stricken and destitute homes, hostels and communities in London (which form part of the data I use in a paper – in prep. – on early 20th century household material environments). Unsurprisingly, there are references to DV in Chesterton’s work (though terse, and fewer than I expected to find).
This encouraged me to survey local (Derby), regional (East Midlands) and wider (e.g. London, Birmingham) contemporaneous social reformist and philanthropic ‘reports’ (e.g. Working-class wives. Their Health and Conditions, published 1939, discussed here); memoirs (such as Elsie Goodhead’s The West End Story), verbal narratives / conversational memories (with local people), and a range of oral histories; and numerous works of fiction, to examine how DV was covered at the time; I also took a quick look through court records.
Preliminary surveys of this category of evidence unsurprisingly suggested differing attitudes towards DV amongst and between the various social reformist and investigative sources, and oral accounts (though of course a wider range of sources must be investigated to determine how representative this diversity might be). Memoirs & verbal narratives / conversational memories tended to describe DV as an accepted (and to some extent, inevitable) condition of urban neighbourhoods in the early 20th century (commonly associated with poverty in the public imagination) – and works of fiction (again unsurprisingly) tended to replicate this attitude to dramatic effect.
I also spent some time going through local (Derby) / regional (Derbyshire) court records from the 19th and early 20th centuries, during which I came across many more – often successful – cases brought by women against their husbands for violence. I’ve also recently started to go through local newspaper archives (beginning with papers dating to the 19th century) to see how DV was reported – by searching for the (albeit ambiguous terms ‘wife beating’ and ‘wife assault’). When reporting cases, articles seem to represent the differing attitudes noted above, in quoting perpetrators and victims, as well as witnesses – usually lodgers, neighbours, friends, family, and doctors; and police, magistrates, and lawyers / solicitors. Inevitably, sensational and bizarre incidents are given more prominent headlines, position and space on the page. Though there are differences in these reports when compared to modern press coverage of DV, at times they appear remarkably similar. I’m continuing this research, and will post particularly informative extracts.
I’ve found some comparisons in the presentation of DV between the newspapers and the late 19th and early 20th century novels that I’ve begun to assess (such as Aurthur Morrison’s Child of the Jago, and Winifred Holtby’s South Riding). However, there are again differences. In this category of evidence, DV is often (though not always) represented through stereotypes (as might be expected), reflecting less varied attitudes than found in the other sources, which I’ll discuss through short reviews of each work, if time permits.
In the following post, I’ll discuss preliminary findings from examining the above range of sources, and consider how this might inform subsequent PSP research.
 The practicability of carrying out detailed interdisciplinary research may be dependent upon securing funding and institutional association – independent research without electronic library and data access is proving problematic, constraining development.
 I’ve written about Chesterton’s comments on poverty, homelessness, and housing on one of my blogs, here; and published short online articles through the Voluntary Action History Society, here and here. I also plotted the locations of some of the families that Chesterton discusses – often citing the comments of women – within her 1936 book I Lived in a Slum, here, with information on the families, and quotes from the book). Chesterton’s journalism highlighted both the extent and conditions of poverty and homeless for women in 1920s and 1930s London; drew attention to the broad social backgrounds of homeless women, and the realisation that ‘respectable’ people might easily be reduced to ‘outcasts’ due to circumstances beyond their control, and considered some of the causes of homelessness (including structural problems, such as inadequate housing); and discussed the efficacy of philanthropic and government responses to homelessness and poverty, proffering suggestions – of variable worth -for improvement.
 If interested in crime in the past, useful guides to the available resources are available here and here; I’ve also put a little information relating to crime in late 19th and early 20th century Derby here and here; and the 1911 census record of inmates in the County Gaol here.
As readers might themselves come to see this project, I have come to see PSP in terms of a ‘journey’; I believe that my colleague Debra also sees it in this way. Initially, I cringed in using this term to describe what we’re doing: it’s somewhat clichéd, and might be associated with (what some would have described in the 90s as) ‘New-Age-naval-gazing’. But in reflecting upon the methodologies that we intend to test (particularly approaches developed within the field of ‘Contemporary Archaeology’), the notion of both fieldwork and interpretation as ‘learning processes’ perhaps justifies use of this term.
In discussing our individual fields of research – my doctoral research being on the role of material culture during cultural and social transitions in the (re-)construction of identities (albeit during a historical period very distant from today), and Debra’s psychotherapy MA research and support work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse (e.g. with SV2), particularly in helping those with Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and Dissociation – we saw common ground. At first this was most apparent in the notion of the ‘transitional object’; but subsequently we considered how we might together explore the broader significance of material culture in situations of abuse and – what may be especially important – in the post-trauma restitution or reconstruction of ‘self’. Perhaps inevitably bearing in mind Debra’s specialism, we initially contemplated ‘how’ the material traces of child abuse in the past, and self-reparation in the past and present, might possibly be recovered, while having a positive social impact, supporting survivors in managing trauma, and informing support workers in the significance of material culture in both acts of abuse, and in moving forward after traumatic experience. We are still mulling over this question. But with access to documentary, photographic and other material evidence of domestic violence and post-traumatic restitution in the past and present, we are beginning PSP work with what most might see as an impossible topic – though what to us is so far proving an ‘easier’ focus for the archaeological investigation of violence in the home. (Subsequent posts will explain further, and discuss the primary sources and methodologies we have in mind at this point.)
Considering the personal – and hyper-sensitive – nature of the evidence with which we shall work, collaborators and participants may in some way be affected by engaging with the project. We hope that domestic violence (DV) victims and survivors may take something positive from participation (whether as collaborator in fieldwork, analysis, or presentation of findings, or as audience). However, we are aware of the potential vulnerability of victims and survivors. Our main concern must therefore be to avoid adversely affecting those who engage with PSP, paying particular attention to the potential risk of ‘re-traumatising’ those who have had experience (or are still experiencing) violence and abuse: I am thankful, due to her professional experience, that Debra is vigilant in limiting this risk. This risk has both inspired and constrained project development, with concerns provoked by previous work by others stimulating the question ‘then how might / should the topic be approached’.
We realise that it may not be appropriate to develop or implement certain methods – despite their apparent successful employment in previous studies (which is one reason why we’re beginning as a pilot project, before ‘delving in deep’). I also do not yet know if other issues will obstruct our ability to meet project aims. The historical sources that we will study may often be ‘harrowing’ at best, which might ultimately prove ‘too much’ to continue (I’ll discuss this issue further in another post). For various reasons, ‘enough’ DV victims and survivors may not take part to make the ‘data sample’ numerically ‘significant’: those who have experienced DV may feel they have nothing to say; might not want to remember these experiences; and / or support workers, legal advisers, and perhaps might see participation as inadvisable.
The potential impact upon family and friends is also an important consideration: it is clear that violence in the home (whether in physical, emotional, sexual or other forms) between parents – or inflicted upon children by family members or friends – may affect not only the generations directly involved (as victim and perpetrator), but might also affect subsequent generations: a subject in which Debra is particularly interested, and which archaeology, in studying the ‘longue duree‘, might be particularly well equipped to examine, despite the obvious challenges that must be carefully navigated along the way.