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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.

Annmarie Adams on American Home Life

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