Inhabiting Institutions in Britain, 1700-1950
A two-day conference of the Department of History, Royal Holloway University of London, in London on 14 and 15 September 2010
This conference has been recorded and is available as a series of podcasts
This two-year research project examines the impact of the design, decoration and furnishing of nineteenth-century residential institutional spaces on the experiences of their inmates. Foucault’s seminal analysis of the prison and asylum has inspired scholars to explore the role of architectural planning in discipline. This project, however, takes a new approach by assessing the role of institutional interiors in shaping the experiences of their inhabitants, and will therefore consider spatial arrangements, furnishings and material and visual culture, in addition to the architectural features of the institution. The first aim of the project is to explore the role of government legislation and recommendation in fashioning institutional life, while exploring the limits of this power. Visual iconography could be used to create a unified institutional identity and material culture could impose contemporary ideas of class and gender. Yet inmates could resist institutional control through the negotiation and manipulation of the material world. Secondly, the project assesses the relationship between institutional spaces and contemporary domesticity, that is, the ideals and practices of the family home. Were domestic spaces, such as parlours and drawing rooms, recreated within the institution? To what extent were inmates able to achieve privacy and could the inhabitants of a nineteenth-century institution ever hope to feel “at home”?
Dr René Wolf
Department of History
Royal Holloway Univseristy of London