- Writing for the VCH
- VCH Explore
Consuming the country house: from acquisition to presentation
15 December, 2011 (All day)
The country house can be seen as a palimpsest: generations of owners adding their own material objects and layers of meaning. This presents challenges to both historians and curators – how to understand the relationship between new and old goods; how to assess the meaning of goods in different contexts, and how to present a coherent narrative of the house and its contents to the visitor today. Linked to this is the need to see the country house as dynamic: a lived and living space which was consciously transformed according to fashion or personal taste, but which was also changed by accident, decay and dispersal. Moreover, the country house was a nexus of flows as goods were brought in from the estate, the surrounding area and more distant centres – most notably London. How do these links shape our understanding and interpretation of the country house? In paying more attention to the processes of consumption, attention is focused on social and economic aspects of the country house – a broadening of perspective which can offer a more rounded view of the elite. The country house is often seen as a symbol of wealth and power, but the economics of running such properties (in the present as well as the past) and the experience of everyday life (of owners as well as servants) deserve more attention.
This conference seeks to address such questions, drawing on comparisons with other European countries to throw new light on our understanding of consumption and the country house. More broadly, it seeks to bridge the persistent divide between historians' interpretations of elite consumption and the material culture of the country house, and attempts by owners, managers and curators to interpret and present the country house to visitors