Date of Award

2001

Degree Type

Report

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

First Advisor

Leonard Rosenband

Abstract

The thesis: British Victorian jewelry has the power to function as both subject matter and a point of departure for the lively, interdisciplinary study of nineteenth-century Britain.

The study begins with an object, a jewel in the hand, understood as an artifact. The beauty, wearability, intrigue, and history of antique jewelry gives it the power to launch historical inquiry and to provide concrete access to the past. Visual, oral, and print resources, along with other period objects from the arts and social sciences are then used to help reveal, enrich, and expand the historical meanings embedded in the jewels.

This paper demonstrates numerous ways to examine a jewel to discover what it reveals about its own history, and the historical information that it points to about Victorian Britain. From the style, construction techniques, materials, and the design intentions of the jeweler, the research expands to consider social, cultural, economic and political issues that shaped nineteenth-century Britain and the jewelry that Victorian Britain produced. This method uses visual, photographic, and advertising images, the material culture resources found in museums, universities, special exhibitions, and retail collections, monographs on local, national, and international issues, literature of the era, along with biography, economic, industrial, class, social, artistic and cultural histories to develop and inform the discoveries made from handling the jewelry.

Using information from a variety of perspectives, the jewelry can then help the historian create social, economic, political, cultural, and ideological commentary on the era and the society that produced it. Like the jewelry it studies, this interdisciplinary analysis reveals a diversity and variety in nineteenth-century Britain that reflects the sweeping, economic, and technological change brought about by industrialization, investment, imperialist expansion and trade, and the new social and political forces that growth and development unleashed. The interconnected actions among these forces shaped the life, thought, and the jewelry created during the nineteenth-century in Britain. Now, that legacy of connections facilitates the hands-on, interdisciplinary study of British Victorian jewelry, a study that develops historical competence about this exceptional jewelry, while tangibly enriching the historical understanding and appreciation of nineteenth-century Britain.

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