Signs of higher life : a cultural history of domestic interiors in New Zealand, c.1814-1914
Petersen, Anna Katrine Caughey
This thesis represents the most comprehensive analysis of nineteenth century New Zealand domestic interiors produced to date. While anthropologists have acknowledged the special significance of the house in domesticated societies as representing a link between the individual and society, New Zealand historians have tended to neglect these important instances of material culture as sources of information about the past. The problem is how to reveal what and how domestic interiors can contribute to our understanding of cultural developments in nineteenth century New Zealand. My approach has been to follow the new school of cultural history and seek to interpret signs and uncover meaning rather than to look for causal laws of explanation. Aside from using historical records such as social statistics and official accounts of industrial exhibitions, I have looked to the houses and household objects themselves, original drawings, paintings and photographs of domestic interiors, unpublished manuscripts and contemporary fiction for information, so incorporating sources and methods traditionally associated with anthropology, art history and literary studies. Further interpreting the meanings suggested by these sources, I have chosen to relate the major changes and developments to domestic interiors between c.l814-1914 to the changing concepts of civilization and culture during the same period. The history of the concept of culture as it emerged and developed in English thought has been well documented. The progression of ideas which led to the distinction between culture and civilization evolved as a response to the changing conditions of everyday life, and just enough of the intellectual history has been written as to situate these ideas in the New Zealand context as well. This strategy has proved a most illuminating way of using the primary sources available. The meanings which Pakeha attached to domestic interiors and the objects they contained confirms that despite the geographical separation and the fact that the European immigrants were in a novel, initially hostile environment, New Zealand followed the same progression of ideas regarding civilization and culture as England did. Indeed studying domestic interiors can enhance our understanding of how these changing concepts actually affected individuals and society at large. Ideas about civilized living shaped early European responses to Maori whare and convinced them of the necessity to introduce change. The consequences for Maori were profound and contributed to the breakdown in race relations. Ideas about civilization and material progress at mid-century also imbued the house with particular economic and social significance for intending European emigrants and effectively drove colonists to recreate old domestic arrangements in the new land. The concept of culture as it emerged in the late-nineteenth century led to a new emphasis being placed on art furnishings in the home. Middle-class women used the related concept of good taste to justify their position in society. Domestic interiors became a target of commercial enterprise and women generally started to become the prime consumers for the home. By the turn of the century when a modern understanding was evolving of many cultures around the world, the idea of a distinct New Zealand domestic interior spoke of a new-found pride for New Zealanders as a nation.
Advisor: Olssen, Erik; Brookes, Barbara
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: History
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis