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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Ralph Mills

Ralph Mills
Objects of Delight: The Nineteen Century Mass-Produced Miniature

Humans have always had a significant, but poorly-understood relationship with small-scale things—miniatures. This was as true of the nineteenth century, when miniatures were displayed on the mantelpiece, were both adult and children’s playthings, and were carried in pockets and bags, as it is today, when a plethora of miniatures, from Little Kitty through Lilliput Land to model railways, is present in almost every home. My research explores the phenomenon of miniaturisation, as reflected by the global trade and consumption of mass-produced miniatures, and what it reveals about the nineteenth century people who delighted in, desired, acquired, displayed, collected and discarded them. I investigate what can be learned about miniaturisation and the lives of people in the recent past, from the fact that mass-produced miniatures are linked not only by the phenomenon of miniaturisation itself, but also by their presence and agency in macro-contexts (e.g. working class homes, waterfronts, brothels, taverns, slave quarters), micro-contexts (e.g. the parlour mantelpiece), typologies (e.g. figurines, dolls), themes (e.g. pastoralism, patriotism, humour, eroticism), associations (e.g. doll parts and miniature food vessels), behaviours, (e.g. display, collection) and intrinsic and extrinsic meanings. I suggest that superstition, material memories and “thing-power” play parts in this important relationship.


Conferred 2017