Empire, consumption and domestic material culture in London, c. 1600-1800: tracing the East India Company in the metropolitan archaeological record

Welcome to our new research project, funded by Queen Mary University of London’s QResearchers Programme!

The growth of overseas trade and the development of the empire from the seventeenth century, brought a range of new goods and consumer experiences to Britain. The East India Company supplied the British with a variety of new and exotic products from South Asia and beyond, shaping tastes and consumption habits in distinct and lasting ways. Several historians have used the rich documentary evidence and heirloom collections of elite country houses to examine the way that wealthy Brits embraced these new consumption opportunities. This pilot research project will pioneer a different approach to investigating the influence of the East India Company on consumption and household material culture. Focusing on London – where most of the East India Company goods entered Britain – it aims to investigate the value of archaeological collections in revealing the spread and influence of Asian goods within the early modern metropolis.

Building on earlier AHRC-funded collaborative research, this project is a collaborative venture between Queen Mary University of London, Museum of London Archaeology and the Museum of London. The Museum of London curate and conserve the world’s largest collection of excavated artefacts. This is held at the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre in Shoreditch, which serves as the repository for materials retrieved from over 7,500 archaeological excavations that have taken place in London over the last 70 or so years. Their collections span London’s history from the pre-Roman period to the twentieth century. The project undertake preliminary analysis of artefacts from sites that yielded material dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, looking for evidence of artefacts of Asian (East India Company) origin.

Over June and July 2015 a team of researchers will:

  • Undertake a preliminary search through object assemblages at the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre for evidence of East India Company influences (e.g. Asian and Oriental ceramics, evidence of use of new food stuffs such as spice jars)
  • Undertake a survey of relevant contextual material in the extensive India Office Records at the British Library (e.g. personal papers, evidence of imports of particular cargoes) or in other London archives.
  • Survey relevant historical literature on the East India Company and its influence on British and metropolitan consumption and domestic life.

Our team:

Alastair Owens (Project lead, Queen Mary), Hannah Stockton (Postgraduate co-ordinator, Queen Mary) Emma Briscoe (Researcher, Queen Mary), Roshni Khunti (Researcher, Queen Mary) , Will Johnston (Researcher, Queen Mary), Rupert Featherby (Archaeologist, Museum of London Archaeology) and Jacqui Pearce (Archaeologist, Museum of London Archaeology)

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