The discourse of practice: continuity and change in early modern domestic cultures

Anthony Buxton (University of Oxford)
3 October 2012

Abstract (taken from the History SPOT blog)

The town of Thame in Oxfordshire can be found about 7 miles southwest from Aylesbury.  It was originally founded in the Anglo-Saxon era as part of Wessex and has since seen the rise and dissolution of a monastic Abbey (once belonging to the Cistercian order) and more recently was home to the Bee Gee Robin Gibb.  For the most part, though, Thame is an ordinary market town, close enough to London to benefit from trade but in the past also very much reliant on its local agriculture.  It also has a very good set of probate inventories which Anthony Buxton from the University of Oxford has used as his primary source for investigating Thames’ early modern domestic culture. 
Buxton notes that the domestic domain is a complex area of research for historians.  There are many conflicting layers and elements and often it is by far easier and more practical to focus on just one or two elements.  However, Buxton believes he has a way to study it as a whole – not just from its material aspect, or social context, but from its conceptual aspect as well.  That is, the ideas which govern relationships which are then ordered and enacted in a domestic space. 
Practice theory is the method Buxton has chosen to achieve this aim and he explains it through the example of Thame and the probate inventory.  In general the talk is broken up into three main sections.
1)      Discussion of the nature of effective theoretical and interpretative framework for domestic life, with an emphasis on practice theory.
2)      Description of the English early modern household (using the example of Thame)
3)      Variations in practice as discourse and debate in relation to the domestic domain
Using probate inventories as the basis of his study, Buxton also noted the essential importance of relational databases to his research.  Indeed, such a study would have been much more difficult if he hadn’t learnt the proper way to structure his database to make sure that it could return the results he wished to discover.  As a side note, then, our Designing Databases for Historical Research handbook (requires login or free registration) is also available on History SPOT and contains the same reasoning and discussion of the theoretical underpinnings necessary to consider when building a database for this purpose. 

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