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  • Different Times, Different Materials and Different Purposes: Writing on objects at the Grand Arcade site in Cambridge

    Craig Cessford

    Chapter from the book: Piquette K. & Whitehouse R. 2013. Writing as Material Practice: Substance, surface and medium.

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    During the 18th–20th centuries writing is extremely common on objects made from a wide range of materials that are recovered archaeologically. This evidence is particularly susceptible to nuanced interpretation, as it often forms part of short term deliberate depositional events linked to specific households and consisting of large numbers of items. The nature of the evidence also means that a biographical approach to both individual items and groups of objects can be fruitfully applied. Despite this, such finds have attracted relatively little attention, principally because they are conceived of as part of an unproblematic ‘familiar past’. By looking in detail at six assemblages of material spanning the late 18th to early 20th century recovered during recent excavations at the Grand Arcade site in Cambridge, England, this chapter focusses on how the different materials, sizes, forms, and functions of different types of artefacts affect how writing was employed upon them, as well as why writing does not occur on certain types of artefacts. What was the function of the various types of writing and who was the intended audience? To what extent is some of the writing primarily tactile rather than visual? To what extent was some of the writing meant to be read at all, as some of it was effectively hidden? It also explores the relationship between writing on materials that survive archaeologically and the dominant form of writing on paper that has usually perished. It emerges that much of the writing relates to regulation, although there is also evidence for resistance, as well as a repeated a link to children, and commercial and institutional branding. As writing on objects becomes more common between the late 18th and early 20th centuries and a text-saturated culture develops, the individual texts in later assemblages are often less visible than in earlier groups and are frequently apparently not intended to be read by the consumers of the objects themselves.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Cessford, C. 2013. Different Times, Different Materials and Different Purposes: Writing on objects at the Grand Arcade site in Cambridge. In: Piquette K. & Whitehouse R (eds.), Writing as Material Practice. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/bai.o

    This is an Open Access chapter distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (unless stated otherwise), which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).

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    Published on Dec. 18, 2013


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