Medieval Domesticity: Home, Housing and Household
25th Annual Medieval Studies Conference
Saturday March 12-Sunday March 13, 2005

Gender, Social Spaces and Material Culture in English Towns, c. 1200-1600. Towards Archaeologies of Inhabitation

Adrian Chadwick, University of Wales, Newport

This paper explores gender in medieval and early post-medieval English towns. Although this topic has been considered by archaeologists and historians studying the medieval period, particularly within the past fifteen years, in Britain medieval urban archaeology remains largely untheorised, and dominated by normative, functionalist approaches to the evidence. This paper suggests that embodied experiences of the urban landscape created a series of varied femininities and masculinities during the study period, and it suggests possible reasons for changes in these experiences over time. The architecture of medieval houses, the structure of social space and the use of material culture both influenced the lifeways of their inhabitants, and were themselves products of them. Changes in architecture and household material culture had important ramifications for the routine social practices of urban dwellers, particularly increases in both the amounts and styles of ceramic vessels, which formed an important part of the later medieval habitus (e.g. Cumberpatch 1997a and b).

Using theoretical approaches derived from social geography, landscape theory and material culture studies, this paper will examine the roles of gender and status in these changes within the later medieval urban landscape. It will show how an explicitly self-critical and dialectical approach to the archaeological and historical evidence can allow us to create contextualised archaeologies of inhabitation for the period (q.v. Barrett 1999, 2001; Chadwick 2004; Meskell 1996; Shanks 1992). This paper uses some specific case studies, but is also designed to prompt discussion and debate, to make urban archaeologists more aware of these problems, and to offer some ideas that might be considered in future work.



Barrett, J.C. 1999. Chronologies of landscape. In P.J. Ucko and R. Layton, R. (eds.) The Archaeology and Anthropology of Landscape. London. Routledge, pp. 21-30.

Barrett, J.C. 2001. Agency, the duality of structure, and the problem of the archaeological record. In I. Hodder (ed.) Archaeological Theory Today. Cambridge: Polity, pp. 141-164.

Chadwick, A.M. 2004. ‘Geographies of sentience’ – an introduction to space, place and time. In A.M. Chadwick (ed.) Stories from the Landscape: Archaeologies of Inhabitation. BAR (International Series) S1238. Oxford: Archaeopress, pp. 1-48.

Cumberpatch, C.G. 1997a. The concepts of economy and habitus in the study of later medieval ceramic assemblages. Archaeological Review from Cambridge 14 (2): 9-22.

Cumberpatch, C.G. 1997b. Towards a phenomenological approach to the study of medieval pottery. In C.G. Cumberpatch and P.W. Blinkhorn (eds.) Not so Much a Pot, More a Way of Life. Current Approaches to Artefact Analysis in Archaeology. Oxbow Monograph 83. Oxford: Oxbow, pp. 125-151.

Meskell, L. 1996. The somatization of archaeology: institutions, discourses, corporeality. Norwegian Archaeological Review 29 (1): 1-16.

Shanks, M. 1992. Experiencing the Past. London: Routledge.


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