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Material Culture, Memory, and Violence in the Home: Towards Healing Histories Exhibition

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CHAT Exhibition 2015, (left:) poster display, and (right:) interactive multimedia digital display (©PSP / KJarrett 2015)

Last autumn (31st October – 1st November 2015) I provided an exhibition for the Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT) conference (at the Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield, my Alma Mater). Since then I’ve been writing up this work, and investigating the sources further (which is an ongoing process).

The exhibition – ‘Material Culture, Memory, and Violence in the Home: Towards Healing Histories’ – was presented in two parts: a poster display, which basically outlined what PSP does, and an interactive multimedia digital display, which introduced topics of study and preliminary findings. I hope to make the latter available online soon; the former is now available here. The Abstract for the exhibition is as follows.

Material Culture, Memory, and Violence in the Home: Towards Healing Histories: Abstract

The ‘Past Sense’ Project (PSP) brings together contemporary and historical archaeology, and psychotherapy, to consider the significance of material culture within contexts of domestic and sexual abuse, past and present. PSP will pilot a range of approaches to explore how collaborative community encounters with historic landscapes and buildings, artefacts, and other historical sources might enhance the process of identity (re-)construction and trauma management, for survivors of childhood and adulthood violence and abuse.

Methods include experimental auto- and co-archaeologies that integrate personal narratives and reflections within analyses of data obtained from archaeological surface- and building surveys, and auto-archive material. This will involve considering the (re)construction of meanings for material culture in relation to memory and identity, through studies of artefact biographies, and attending to the production and appropriation of transitional objects, through autobiographical studies.

We will also test the incorporation of recording, analysis, and interpretation of archaeological and other historical material (including written evidence, oral histories, photography, and artistic images) from earlier periods (particularly the 19th – mid 20th centuries) within community work – potentially involving creative elements (such as storytelling and artwork). In doing so, we will explore how engagement with material relating to domestic life in the more distant past (where appropriate, integrating historical material relating to domestic and sexual violence) might enable traumatised individuals and groups to confront experiences of violence in the more recent past.

By examining diachronically continuous and changing abusive practices, and socio-political responses to abuse, we aim to foster recognition of dominant ideologies, and the practical, detrimental, effects of structural gender inequality. Emphasising acts of resistance to violence in and around the home, we endeavour to highlight personal and collective achievements that might reinforce and augment both a sense of self, and of community, for survivors of abuse.

 

 

 

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Getting up close and personal: a case study of domestic violence in late Victorian Derby (work in progress)

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Things have been quiet here for the last few weeks – but I’ve not been twiddling my thumbs!

I’ve been trawling the archives to look closely into the lives of a family in late Victorian Derby, headed by George Henry Millington, and his wife Edna (nee Moss), whose court case in April 1883 not only hit local and regional newspapers, but was also reported as far afield as Portsmouth.

The local daily newspaper reports on the day of the court hearing (the other accounts will be presented in subsequent posts):

“Godliness not cleanliness.” George Henry Millington, cab driver, Angel Yard, Burton Road, was summoned for assaulting his wife, Edna, on the 26th inst. The complainant stated that the defendant came home and asked her where she had been. She replied that she had visited her mother, whereupon he took her by the throat, and struck and kicked her out of the house. In answer to the Bench the complainant stated that she and her husband were always quarrelling. He did not like her go in to the meetings of the Salvation Army. She did not stay out until eleven o’clock at night. The defendant said that since his wife had commenced to “go with the Salvation Army, she had neglected the children and the house”. The rooms were quite filthy, and it was on that account that a quarrel arose. The Mayor ‒ If she goes with the Salvation Army, she ought to have remembered that cleanliness is next to godliness”. The Mayor said the Bench did not consider there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant, and therefore dismissed the charge. He had evidently received great provocation from his wife, who had certainly neglected to keep her children and the house tidy and clean, than which nothing could be more provoking to a man. He hoped that the exposure in that court would have the effect of making the wife more careful, and leading a better life.

I intend to present my findings (which include information on their eldest two children, Fredrick William, and George Henry – whose exploits also ended in court, and resulted in their ‘transportation’ to an Industrial school near Bristol; and on the Salvation Army in Derby at this time) in various places, as soon as I’ve exhausted the lines of inquiry to which I have access (which with the reopening of the Local Studies Library today, after closure for a year, will hopefully expand), and have condensed the dozens of pages of information that I’ve accrued into a more manageable narrative.

I became interested in this family as their experiences raise a number of issues of relevance to this project; and because the more I looked, the more historical evidence I found that shone a light upon interrelationships between social structures and cultural frameworks, and violence in the home. I feel that by integrating their story within workshops that explore ways for traumatised survivors of domestic and sexual abuse to use history therapeutically, this case study may enable individuals to reconsider their own experiences as part of a stream of collective encounters that are, to a large extent, influenced by forces situated outside the person (though that evidently affect the ways that people together and alone think and behave toward one another).

This purview may help survivors to deconstruct the victim-blaming strategies so often adopted by abusive partners (and frequently endorsed by others, including those in and with authority). It may also demonstrate to victims and survivors that they are not alone, but are part of a community that is not only represented by those present in person today. In undertaking this research, I have been struck by the ‘connections’ that might be felt between the long-suffering, long-deceased, and those who today continue to experience abuse, and are trying to find ways to manage the trauma left in its wake. Although the material and cultural environments that determine and frame the everyday lives of past and present women of course differ profoundly (and are liable to influence behaviour and attitudes – including emotional response – as is the psychological makeup of the individual), many experiential similarities are evident. In exploring the lives of past victims, I have been moved to give recognition to their experiences – particularly those who appear not to have received justice (who, as today, may have had their injuries compounded through the very mechanisms supposed to protect and assist them: police, courts, families, neighbours, and other putative support networks).

By telling their stories – making visible the hitherto hidden and forgotten pains of the past – we might bring about some degree of restitution for both the dead, and the living. This is not about ‘shaming’ either victims, or those who committed acts of brutality, who cannot defend their actions – for, as is evident within the archives, the accused are commonly given voice within newspaper reports of court hearings, and (as in this case) their actions advocated through the pervading ideologies of the day that permitted the physical ‘correction’ of women by their husbands for not fulfilling their “proper” (expected) ‘duties’ of housekeeper, child-carer, and subservient, attentive, wife. And, by examining the sources, we are able to recognise the ‘conditioning’ of men to their ‘rights’ over women, and so understand the cultural contexts that permitted violent acts (though this exercise certainly does not excuse such behaviour, as it is also apparent from many accounts of family life that violence was not ‘necessary’ to maintain a well-ordered home environment).

Instead, I shall tell these stories so that we might better appreciate our own parts in the complex intersections of society and culture that enable violence to take place with impunity – and to consider ways that we might (singly and together) constrain abuse (which, considering the numerous social and economic effects of violence in the home, will benefit those who have not directly encountered violence in the home, as well as those who have: for the monetary cost of domestic abuse, see the NICE 2014 Costing Statement; for more information on the economic effects of domestic abuse, see the findings of the British Crime Survey). These stories show that – as today – the ’causes’ (catalysts is perhaps a better term) and effects of violence in the home went beyond putative ‘faults’ of the individual, and disfunctionality of the family, neighbourhood, or other communities (which in this case involve gender, class, and religion); and that by studying these stories in depth – conducting ‘microhistories‘ – we might better understand the social problems that give rise to, and derive from, domestic abuse, and might elucidate the practical impact of political and economic structures upon everyday behaviour and beliefs. It is for these reasons, and for the benefits to individuals and families in the present that might come from giving voice to the powerless in the past, that I foreground the personal through such case studies.

As I conduct this research independently (i.e. without funding or institutional support – though supported by PSP co-director Debra), and due to data protection issues, there is a limit to where my investigations might take me in tracing the descendants of this family, and contacting them directly. I therefore send out an appeal to them (or anyone who may know them to pass on this inquiry), to contact me with any further information they may have relating to their ancestors. I also ask for them to pardon my bringing to light episodes of their ancestors’ lives that some might wish to forget or conceal; in return, I hope that they may find at least some of the information that I have uncovered of interest, and if carrying out family history, that there is something of use among the sources that I have collated (which, though within the public domain, might be more easily accessible to me than them, due to my location).

Some of the places that feature in the case study
Some of the places that feature in the case study (@Google Earth / PSP) – click on image for a larger version

I am fortunate in my ‘placement’ (which also provoked my interest in this particular case): my proximity to (currently within walking distance), and familiarity with, the landscape in which this case takes place enables me to consider the effects of surrounding upon the experiences of this family (despite the demolition of most of the housing encountered through this case, on the whole the contours, alignments of roads, and spatial relationships, remain, as do some of the more prominent buildings, and I am fortunate in having access to a large private collection of local historic photographs, to which I refer while exploring the sites mentioned in newspaper reports). My familiarity is a part of my own family history: the area in which Edna Moss and George Henry Millington lived before they married was home to my family for at least seven generations (including myself and my son) – my own grandmother was even born in the street housing the Millington parental home in the 1870s. I therefore hope that some of the information I present might give colour in other ways to those investigating Millington and Moss family histories – I intend to create a picture of their home environments through studies of maps, housing, and material culture, informed by discoveries made during recent archaeological excavations.

Aerial view (1921) of neighbourhood in which Millington family lived at the time of their first court case (1883)
Aerial view (1921) of neighbourhood in which Millington family lived (in the court behind the building – the Angel Inn – seen at the tip of the church tower, centre) at the time of their first court case (1883), Briton From Above, from here – click on image for a larger version

While I continue to research and write up my studies of this case, readers may see a provisional family tree of the two families here (PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS, AND LIKELY TO CONTAIN ERRORS! This is particularly so for the extended family: some branches of the tree are recorded in order to determine – and possibly eliminate – potential distant relationships.)

Provisional family tree for the Millington and Moss Families, 1860s-90s
Provisional family tree for the Millington and Moss Families, 1860s-90s (@PSP / Find My Past) – click on image for larger version

In attempting to extend public engagement with this study beyond the existing opportunities (e.g. the local talks and workshops I intend to develop; blog; Twitter and Facebook; the academic and popular publications that I am in the process of developing), I am contemplating developing ‘profiles’ for the couple involved in this case using social media, so that anyone so inclined might engage in (an imaginative!) dialogue with them, in order to ask general questions about daily life, or more specific questions relating to experiences of violence. So please get involved with this story if you would like to know more, or feel you have something to contribute.

Thoughts and questions: written sources on 19th – early 20th century domestic violence

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street life in LondonIn the previous post, I outlined some of the written sources relating to 19th – early 20th century Domestic Violence (DV) that I’ve so far examined. This post briefly discusses preliminary thoughts on why and how these texts might inform PSP research.

Contextualising the present

As well as interesting in its own right, written evidence for DV in earlier periods is important when studying the recent past, most obviously in order to contextualise behaviour and thought, by considering change over time. It is important to know the extent to which, and in what ways, the past influences the present. By questioning relationships between ideas and practices over time, at varying scales of spatial analysis (the local, regional, national, global etc.), we are able to consider how wider structures (such as political institutions) not only affect what the individual and group does, but also how they think.

Put up and shut up?

Contrary to what popular culture might today lead us to believe, 19th – early 20th century sources indicate that not all saw DV as acceptable behaviour. Victims, neighbours, and the police and legal system, often contested and condemned abuse, which commonly included emotional abuse, such as threats and intimidation, and financial abuse, usually manifest in the withholding of income, as well as physical violence. But these sources also contain some of the potentially damaging attitudes that remain with us today: disbelief, notions of provocation, inadequate legal system and lack of support, and the salacious consumption of human misery as reported in newspapers.

Not unexpectedly, discrepancies are evident within and across even a few documentary sources, taken from only a small range of the written evidence, which acts to remind us not to reify communities by taking the voice of one or two, to speak for the many (a tendency I sometimes encounter through local and family history engagements).[i] These sources support what has been recognised through sociological, anthropological, and other historical studies, viz. that community identities are multifarious  shifting, situationally dependent, and enacted through the various social and cultural experiences that take place over time, within a given space (which itself is liable to change).[ii]

Same for everyone?

We certainly cannot essentialise DV experiences in the past: difference groups within communities encountered abuse in different ways – understandably, considering the varied social networks through which communities were made.[iii] Particularly important for my work is the realisation that, though ostensibly relating ‘what happened’ from the perspective of ‘insiders’, childhood memories, and the contemporary testimonies of men, and perhaps, many women, reflect very specific viewpoints.[iv] We cannot assume that all women were part of such networks – or even that support within these networks was assured.[v] Nor can we exclude the possibility that some children (and possibly some men) may have had access to otherwise closed female networks of mutual support centring upon the home – the older sister, on the fringe of adult female networks, might sometimes share information with her younger brother, who might also over hear ‘women’s talk’.[vi]

Questions, questions…

As I continue with research, the following questions (amongst others) will be in mind when analysing the sources relating to the neighbourhoods that PSP will study – though it is unlikely that I will be able to answer them to a satisfactory extent. To what extenthow and why did family and neighbours ‘stand by’ or protect women – especially those who ‘took’ a perpetrator of violence ‘to court’, particularly within areas defined as ‘poor’ and as ‘crime-ridden’? How were children ‘taught’ (explicitly and / or implicitly) and how did the learn about the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of DV, and in what ways might this have varied within and across time and place?[vii] And to what extent, and in what ways did men discuss DV, and how did this compare to actual practices?

I anticipate that bringing the potential material evidence into play when approaching these questions will be a significant challenge, but might first be approached by adopting geographical and ethnographic techniques, and exploring the built environment. To get the ball rolling, my initial – somewhat tentative and crude – foray into the material culture of DV is to consider the significance of the ‘belt’ and ‘strap’ in household violence, exploring the extent to which (and how and why) men may have used these objects in ‘correcting’ women. But as I continue, I hope to be able to refine the ways I approach the notion of material histories.

Surprise, surprise…

In this brief analysis, comparison of the local and regional sources that I have preliminarily examined, with the findings of wider research (which I continue to work through), there seems to be some correlation, although more work is needed to verify the accuracy of these impressions, and to determine any locally specific patterns. I look forward to continuing this research, through which I’m already encountering voices and actions from and in the past that (to me, somewhat surprisingly) have (so far) demonstrated kindness and support, as much as cruelty and aggression.

Notes

[i] This is not to deride the researches of ‘amateur’ family and local historians; merely to reflect common (though certainly not universal) emphasis upon the personal (as part of the familial ‘picture’), rather than the social or political. Conversely, many ‘professionals’ are also very interested in the details relating individual lives in the past, as well as the ‘bigger picture’.

Collaborative work holds the potential to produce histories of broader interest and value than ‘amateurs’ and ‘professionals’ (neither of which are homogeneous categories) working alone, incorporating more various interpretations that may inform future research. ‘Amateurs’ have often dedicated much time to very detailed research, which in some cases might be developed within micro histories. ‘Professionals’, with access to wider specialist skills and research on particular historical themes, periods, or material, may be able to develop and contextualise micro histories. Collaborative projects within the field of contemporary historical archaeology have yielded excellent results, from which we all might learn, e.g. Rachel Kiddey’s work with homeless collaborators in Bristol and York (2014 Homeless Heritage: collaborative social archaeology as therapeutic practice, University of York).

[ii] E.g. see Richard Jenkins’ Social Identities (2008)

[iii] See e.g. Ellen Ross’ ‘Survival Networks: Women’s Neighbourhood Sharing in London Before World War I’, History Workshop Journal 1983, pp. 4-28

[iv] Ibid.

[v] This is suggested reports made by charity workers, as well as some oral histories, as those “who keep themselves to themselves”, e.g. Maud Pember Reeves Round About a Pound a Week (1994 [1913]), and in situations of rivalry, e.g. as recorded in Robert Roberts The Classic Slum (1990 [1971]). However, we are again confronted by the possibility that commentators may have been unaware of all facets of social relationships.

[vi] For example, see Bryan Magee’s A Hoxton Childhood Clouds of Glory (2008)

[vii] Bryan Magee’s memoir (op. cit.) also touched upon this theme, in which he mention the “taboo” of boys hitting girls, and reflects upon the mysterious process by which children came to ‘know’ this taboo.