1 Citation in this Annotation:
Annmarie Adams on American Home Life
16 December, 2020
This annotation is an extract from Annmarie Adams (1994) review ‘American Home Life, 1880-1930: A Social History of Spaces and Services’, Material History Review, Spring 1994, 87-89
The study of the American middle-class home has been central to the development of material culture studies. This is evident both by the sheer number of scholarly articles devoted to the history of home life and by the inclusion of middle-class domestic topics in the field’s growing list of texts. American Home Life, 1880-1930: A Social History of Spaces and Services, edited by Jessica H. Foy and Thomas J. Schlereth, makes a substantial contribution to this well-established subfield, while at the same time suggesting new avenues for future research.
American Home Life is a collection of 11 papers by scholars from a range of fields in the humanities, presented in 1989 at a Texas conference entitled ‘Life at Home, 1880-1930’. Collectively, the authors attempt to explain why and how the late Victorian, middle-class household became a more rationalised, modern site over the course of five tumultuous decades. This question has been addressed by other scholars, such as Gwendolyn Wright in Moralism and the Model Home: Domestic Architecture and Cultural Conflict in Chicago, 1873-1913 (University of Chicago Press, 1980). The novelty of American Home Life, however, is that 11 authors address the same question using different bodies of evidence. This feature, in itself, will make the book a fundamental text for interdisciplinary or cultural approaches to the history of the home.
American Home Life augments several increasingly popular fields of inquiry in the history of American, middle-class private life: gender issues, the impact of technology and spatial transformations inside the house. The complex interrelationship of these three research areas is highlighted in the book, giving evidence of the continuing need for interdisciplinary approaches to the home and for a broadened definition of what may have constituted living spaces in the past.