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Historical Montage: An Approach to Material Aesthetics at Historic House Sites

  • Travis G. ParnoEmail author
Chapter
Part of the Contributions To Global Historical Archaeology book series (CGHA, volume 35)

Abstract

Historic houses are uniquely situated at the intersection of heritage and material culture. As locations of material display and familial veneration, they act as nodes connecting threads of manufactured history, object trajectories, and stratified experience. They exist in a place out of time that at once creates, references, and destroys past temporalities.

Using the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts, as a case study, this chapter investigates the intricacies of heritage production at historic house sites. The Fairbanks House, built in 1641, is the oldest standing timber-framed house in North America and is a highly touted example of early colonial architecture in New England. It has borne witness to nearly 300 years of Fairbanks family occupation and over 100 years of heritage stewardship. In that time, the house has accumulated a rich historical record in the form of architectural modification, collected artifacts, oral history, and lived experience. Each year, thousands of visitors come to Dedham to engage with this intricate historical montage.

As a means of gauging their reactions to this complex series of physical and temporal images, visitors to the Fairbanks House during its 2011 open season were asked to complete a written survey. The survey results are presented here, and their analysis is informed by Walter Benjamin’s concepts of mosaic and interruption. What is the role of museum artifacts that only appeared on the Fairbanks property during their afterlives as nonfunctional aesthetic objects? Do they lend themselves to interrupted contemplation, valued as individual pieces, or are they subsumed into a larger, generalized mosaic of pastness? How do these objects guide or shape museum visitors’ constructions of life in historic houses? In answering these questions, this chapter outlines a Benjaminian conception of heritage aesthetics at historic house sites.

Keywords

Material Culture Tour Experience Museum Visitor Open Season Historic House 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Mary Beaudry for her work in editing this volume and for her support in pretty much everything else. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Claire Dempsey, Lee Anne Hodson, Al Blood, Alex Service, Meaghan Siekmann, Frank Carvino, Christina Luke, Ed Bell, Brona Simon, Brent Fortenberry, the Fairbanks Family in America Inc. Board of Directors, the Boston University Department of Archaeology, the Boston University Center for the Humanities, and the reviewers who commented on this chapter.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyBoston UniversityBostonUSA

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