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Dismantling Mantelpieces: family, home, identity and memory

Rachel Hurdley Profile Image

This project examines how domestic mantelpiece displays relate to everyday formations of home and family.  Research materials include interviews, photographs, drawings and questionnaires, together with Mass Observation archive, museum and historical sources.  The mantelpiece is, literally, a structural norm in British homes, yet its origin is peculiar, and its future uncertain.  Only particular houses (and therefore households) have this inbuilt, but even social housing tenants and first-home renters will designate a space for ‘mantelpiece objects’ (and everyone knows what these are, don’t they?).  It is holding its own despite central heating, flat screen televisions and new entertainment technologies.  A feature in shop windows, IKEA room facsimiles and pubs/coffee shops, it rarely frames a ‘real fire’.  It is finding a place in newly-built Chinese developments, and atop new fireplaces in Colombian mountain homes where meals are cooked to impress visitors.  It sits at the cusp of continuity and change, on a fault line in socially-accepted ‘common-sense’, somewhere between memory and imagination.  What is it for, and what is it doing here?

Funders: ESRC (PhD: 2001-2005; Postdoctoral Award: 2008-2009) and The Sociological Review (2009-2010)

Project Links

  • Rachel Hurdley talks to Laurie Taylor about her study of what is to be found above the fireplace and the reasons why the mantelpiece is still an important feature in our houses. BBC Radio 4's Thinking Allowed.
  • Rachel Hurdley's work on Mass Observation mantelpiece reports is featured in BBC Radio Four's Today Programme

Links for Dr Rachel Hurdley

  • Link to School Profile
  • Link to Publications Page
  • Link to Research Projects