Friday, September 2, 2011

Student Leah Thomas at George Washington's Mount Vernon

During the summer of 2011, I had the privilege to intern with the Archaeology Lab at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

George Washington's Mount Vernon.
My assigned research project focused on 18th century dining practices, and contributed to a larger project concerning Mount Vernon’s South Grove Midden site. I was also given the opportunity to assist with the lesson plans for a teacher’s workshop entitled From Mansion to Midden, as well as participate in the Day of Archaeology and post weekly updates to the Facebook page “Mount Vernon’s Mystery Midden.” As part of this latter initiative, I also composed a blog entry that summarizes my research, and can be viewed in part below:

During the 1600s, a typical meal in a colonial home consisted of ingredients that were mixed together and cooked in one pot, then eaten out of simple, plain, shared vessels. However, a cultural shift occurred during the first few decades of the 1700s that emphasized a more elite style of dining and a wish to showcase food, leading to an explosion in the variety of dining objects. For my project this summer, I gathered data on these specialized vessel and utensil forms from six different museum sources, an analysis of which shows that the highest variety in dining object forms occurs during the 1750s.

Porringer with Rococo shell motif, excavated from Mount Vernon’s
South Grove Midden site, ca. 1740-1775.
I explored one explanation for this trend during my summer at Mount Vernon; namely, that the 1750s corresponds to the beginning of the Rococo period in the American colonies. As a decorative art, dining objects became a natural outlet for the creativity of this new style. Consequently, the colonial elite were attempting to keep up with current European fashions by choosing objects in this new Rococo style to grace their tables. These objects, now displayed in museum collections, reveal a world of lighthearted attitudes, extravagant entertainment, and dining rooms filled with laughter, fine food, and ornamented tables.

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