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Artifacts

How We Think and Write about Found Objects

Crystal B. Lake

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A literary history of the old, broken, rusty, dusty, and moldy stuff that people dug up in England during the long eighteenth century.

In the eighteenth century, antiquaries—wary of the biases of philosophers, scientists, politicians, and historians—used old objects to establish what they claimed was a true account of history. But just what could these small, fragmentary, frequently unidentifiable things, whose origins were unknown and whose worth or meaning was not self-evident, tell people about the past?

In Artifacts, Crystal B. Lake unearths the four kinds of old objects that were most...

A literary history of the old, broken, rusty, dusty, and moldy stuff that people dug up in England during the long eighteenth century.

In the eighteenth century, antiquaries—wary of the biases of philosophers, scientists, politicians, and historians—used old objects to establish what they claimed was a true account of history. But just what could these small, fragmentary, frequently unidentifiable things, whose origins were unknown and whose worth or meaning was not self-evident, tell people about the past?

In Artifacts, Crystal B. Lake unearths the four kinds of old objects that were most frequently found and cataloged in Enlightenment-era England: coins, manuscripts, weapons, and grave goods. Following these prized objects as they made their way into popular culture, Lake develops new interpretations of works by Joseph Addison, John Dryden, Horace Walpole, Jonathan Swift, Tobias Smollett, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, among others. Rereading these authors with the artifact in mind uncovers previously unrecognized allusions that unravel works we thought we knew well.

In this new history of antiquarianism and, by extension, historiography, Lake reveals that artifacts rarely acted as agents of fact, as those who studied them would have claimed. Instead, she explains, artifacts are objects unlike any other. Fragmented and from another time or place, artifacts invite us to fill in their shapes and complete their histories with our imaginations. Composed of body as well as spirit and located in the present as well as the past, artifacts inspire speculative reconstructions that frequently contradict one another. Lake's history and theory of the artifact will be of particular importance to scholars of material culture and forms. This fascinating book provides curious readers with new ways of evaluating the relationships that exist between texts and objects.

Reviews

Reviews

While this review singles out only a few, Lake's examination of the narratives generated by many eighteenth-century first responders to coins, weapons, manuscripts and grave goods, is thorough and illuminating, as are her detailed and scholarly readings of literary texts where artifacts shape form and content.

[A] engaging and thought-provoking study.

..., the book is a powerful reminder of the nuances that paying more attention to objects can bring to the study of the intersections between literature and politics in the long eighteenth century.

What is arresting about Lake's study is how she shows that the material turn must make space for textual forms, making a strong case for the place of text in manifesting the material. Artifacts is a pleasure to read, and scholars will respond with enthusiasm to its vision.

Artifacts is a fresh, perceptive examination of the intellectual roots and cultural diffusion of British antiquarianism during the long eighteenth century. Lake's original and important work has two key aims: to formulate a theory of the antiquarian artifact from the vantage of new materialism and to demonstrate that the artifact was central to—and gained definition from—ongoing conflicts over political agency.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
272
ISBN
9781421436500
Illustration Description
4 b&w photos
Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Prologue. Things Speaking for Themselves
Part I. Terms and Contexts
Chapter 1. Leaving Room to Guess
Chapter 2. Ten Thousand Gimcracks
Part II. Case Studies
Chapter 3

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Prologue. Things Speaking for Themselves
Part I. Terms and Contexts
Chapter 1. Leaving Room to Guess
Chapter 2. Ten Thousand Gimcracks
Part II. Case Studies
Chapter 3. Coins: The Most Vocal Monuments
Chapter 4. Manuscripts: Burnt to a Crust
Chapter 5. Weapons: A Wilderness of Arms
Chapter 6. Grave Goods: The Kings' Four Bodies
Afterword. The Artifactual Form
Notes
Works Cited
Index

Author Bio
Crystal B. Lake
Featured Contributor

Crystal B. Lake

Crystal B. Lake (DAYTON, OH) is a professor of English languages and literature at Wright State University. She is the author of Artifacts: How We Think and Write About Found Objects.