Arrival Cities: Urban Spaces of Mobility in Europe, Past and Present

By Rosa Salzberg

I was unable to participate in the Mobile and Temporary Domesticities workshop at the Geffrye Museum, but I took a keen interest in it due to my current research on spaces of arrival for migrants and travellers in Renaissance Venice. By the sixteenth century, Venice was one of the largest, and most mobile, cities of Renaissance Europe. As a major trading centre and the capital of a vast empire, it was a destination – at least a temporary one – for streams of people on the move. How to accommodate these many migrants and visitors in the crowded urban environment, whether they were intending to settle or stay only a short time, was a crucial and sensitive question that concerned the Venetian government and many of the city’s inhabitants, not to mention the new arrivals themselves.

Jost Amman, View of the Piazza San Marco, Venice, second half of the sixteenth century  ©Trustees of the British Museum

My research focuses on the major sites of commercial hospitality – inns and lodging houses – in which many people made their first or temporary homes in the metropolis. The inns, or osterie, were large, closely-regulated and centrally-located, and accommodated primarily short-term visitors such as merchants, students and diplomats. But they could hardly cater to the streams of people disembarking in Venice in this period, and my research has uncovered a much broader network of lodging houses spread across the city. Venetian inhabitants of all kinds (many of them women, often widows, and frequently immigrants themselves) opened up their houses to newcomers and shared domestic space with them, earning a valuable income. As it exploded in the sixteenth century, this large informal lodging economy became a cause of anxiety to the government, as it was difficult to tax and regulate (not unlike a pre-modern Airbnb). However, it was crucial in providing a much wider range of arrivals (artisans, women looking for work as domestic servants, sailors, and many others) with temporary or longer-term homes. In addition to mapping and profiling this underground economy of hospitality, I am exploring how these spaces offered opportunities for interaction between urban inhabitants and visitors, leading to instances of exchange (and conflict) over intimate matters such as cooking, hygiene, and devotional practices.

Under the auspices of my current project, in November 2017 I organised a workshop entitled Arrival Cities: Urban Spaces of Mobility in Europe, Past and Present at the European University Institute in Florence. The idea behind the workshop was to bring together historians and architectural historians with scholars in other disciplines (particularly sociology and urban studies), in order to compare approaches to these spaces in the past and present, and to encourage reflection on a range of methodologies. Several of the papers presented touched particularly on the theme of “mobile and temporary domesticities”. The historian Eleonora Canepari from Aix-Marseille University examined the variety of temporary accommodation for workers and travellers moving between the centre of Rome and its rural peripheries in the seventeenth century, from inns and taverns to makeshift shacks in vineyards and lodgings in city gates. Daniel Maudlin, an architectural historian from the University of Plymouth, shared insights from his research into coaching inns in eighteenth-century Britain, showing how this emerging network of hospitality sites functioned as material and architectural spaces of great importance to elite mobility and sociability. Céline Regnard (also of Aix-Marseille University), spoke about the significant lodging sector in late nineteenth-century Marseille, a major port city that accommodated numerous transit migrants en route to North America.

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Vittore Carpaccio, The Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at the Ponte di Rialto, 1494 (Wikipedia Commons).

A number of papers also considered some of the spaces occupied by migrants in contemporary European cities, including domestic spaces. Giada Giustetto, a member of the European Research Council-funded ‘Bodies over Borders’ (BABE) project based at the European University Institute, discussed her research collecting oral and visual records from recent migrants, recording their perceptions of the homes they had left behind compared to their new homes in Italy, and the objects and customs that remained important to them on their journeys. Adriano Cancellieri and Giovanna Marconi, researchers associated with the UNESCO chair on the ‘Social and Spatial Inclusion of Migrants in European Cities – Urban Policies and Practices’ at the IUAV University of Architecture in Venice, presented some examples of the way in which research, policy and action come together in their work with recent migrants. Not unlike the spaces of reception around the walls of early modern cities, Adriano and Giovanna described the squalid conditions of a refugee reception centre on the Italian mainland: only a few kilometres from the splendours of Venice, and yet all but invisible to most locals and visitors. These scholars of contemporary migration have the advantage of being able to ‘access’ and document the point of view of migrants themselves, even the most marginalised. Nonetheless, the historians showed how a focus on the material and physical nature of the spaces occupied by migrants in the past can provide new insight into their experiences even when personal testimonies of mobility are very difficult to recover.

Some of the persistent themes discussed at the workshop included how mobility has always played a major role in shaping European cities; the movement of people necessitating an infrastructure of more or less permanent spaces to accommodate them. In the early modern period, cities and states had less capacity to monitor, control and direct the flows of people that passed through them. And yet, polities like Venice did make very early efforts to do so by policing their borders, attempting to distinguish ‘desirable’ from ‘undesirable’ migrants and accommodate (or deport) them accordingly. Authorities may have more resources now to identify and track people on the move, but migrants continue to find spaces to occupy even when they are officially unwanted, whether in peripheral neighbourhoods where they find temporary homes or in public spaces such as the areas around train stations which often become important social sites for recent arrivals. Across the various papers it was clear that, despite the variety of spaces considered, first or temporary homes played a critical role in the journeys of mobile people: as places to find their feet, make contacts, look for work, and orient themselves in the ways of the metropolis.

Rosa Salzberg is Associate Professor of Italian Renaissance History at the University of Warwick. In 2016-18, she is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence. The project and workshop described above are funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 702296.


“What a theatre!” – Actors’ and Actresses’ Homes and a Mobile Historian

By Ute Sonnleitner

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to reflect a little on my research on the mobile lives of German-speaking actors and actresses. What started as a project on women’s lives in the region of Styria/Austria, became focused on the living and working conditions of artists partly because of my own experiences as a researcher.  Although I had travelled frequently to archives across the country, I recently made the decisions to reduce my mobility. Suddenly, every autobiography I read was concerned in one way or another with descriptions of houses of flats inhabited by actors and actresses!

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The life of a mobile historian.

By the end of the 19th century, acting was a growing industry. Theatre buildings had reached almost every town in the German-speaking lands, and temporary ‘theatre-rooms’ had been established in small villages and in the countryside. These stages were not only to be found in the regions of Western and Central Europe, but around the world. German-speaking actors trod the boards in St Petersburg, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco, to name but a few. These actors lived mobile lives. Starting work as an actor or actress was inextricably linked to instability in living and working conditions. The vast majority of actors changed residences regularly, often once a season or when an engagement had ended. As artists became more established, a respectable residence could be adopted as the base from which to travel to guest appearances. A more intensive phase of guest-appearances – with longer time away from home –typically started up again as income dwindled in older age.

Although actors and their contemporaries took this movement for granted, ideas of home were of great importance. The concept of ‘sedentariness’ and its connection to ideas of national belonging in Germany are central to understanding this apparent paradox or ambivalence. In the nineteenth century, sedentariness became the only accepted way of living and it was a concept that was especially powerful among the middle class / bourgeoisie. The concept had a strong gendered dimension as middle class women were ascribed to the sphere of home and to devotion to the household and family. Men were also bound to their home, but were conceded much more latitude (earning the money for their families, defending their homes, fighting for their nation in wars and so on meant entry into the world). The middle class/bourgeois ideal became hegemonic – and challenged other ways of living. Informed by the gendered concept of ‘sedentariness’, the way in which the mobility of male and female actors and actresses were viewed and represented was very different: while male actor’s travels were seen as quasi-natural facts, actresses’ way-of-life was subject to criticism. This is mirrored in artist’s ego-documents: actor’s autobiographies and ego documents tell of joining wandering troupes and of days without food and housing. For female actors, it was a different story, and autobiographies focus instead on places of residence.

When Frieda Hempel (1885–1955) described the room of her singer-colleague Erna Berger (1900–1990), she said it was “exactly like one imagines the room of an old diva.” This statement demonstrates many significant aspects of contemporary thinking about actors, their mobilities – and their homes. Frieda Hempel inhabited several homes throughout her lifetime: she started her career in Germany before moving to the USA, and she was engaged on the great stages of the world and toured the globe. In her autobiography, she repeatedly reported information about these different homes – their furnishing, their geographical surroundings. With the detailed descriptions she was able to emphasize – once more – the success-story of her life. She had spent her childhood in humble conditions and, even though the rooms she inhabited at the beginning were simple, they represented important steps in her career. In Schwerin, for example, she rented two rooms without running water or a central heating system. She, nevertheless, liked the flat very much because she “enjoyed the view.” In Berlin, she became “Hofopernsängerin” (singer at the court’s opera), and the rise in her station was accompanied by an increase in the size of her apartment. The four “lovely” rooms, located at one of Berlin’s “most elegant addresses,” were furnished with antiquities, a “deep red Bucharra”-carpet and bronze figurines with Venetian mirrors completing the style. Her house in New York (where she moved to in 1913) vis-à-vis Central Park represented the climax of her success story. According to Hempel, her home, designed by a famous interior-designer, became an “attraction.” Thick carpets and walls clad in glass-plates were key elements of the design.

Opera singer Frieda Hempel.

The home in New York was established when she went through the most successful years of her career – which were also the most mobile ones: Hempel toured constantly and her rooms were like a holiday-base where she returned to rest and to recover. The ‘old diva’ had enough money to equip her rooms exquisitely but she was – in the eyes of the colleague – overdoing it. The flat she inhabited had to prove the inhabitant’s respectability against public suspicions describing artists as filthy and unstable. Erna Berger lived herself a comparably mobile life. She also wrote an autobiography and described her own flat in quite similar modes to Hempel. Berger preferred a different style but the meanings she gave her rooms were the same. Her description of her colleague’s house reveals how deeply ingrained public opinions of artists and their lifestyle were – even among colleagues and friends. Similar reservations about artists and their unstable, mobile way of life are exposed by the use of the term ‘Künstlerwirtschaft’ (the artist’s ménage or household). ‘Künstlerwirtschaft’ functioned as a pejorative description of the unstable and unsettled life of an artist. Even artists themselves used the term in a negative way – to refer to a person lacking manners and living in filthy conditions.

While mobility was considered an unavoidable part of an actor’s early career, it became unacceptable to ‘move around’ later on in life. A fixed engagement at a reputable stage was needed in order to be respected. Travelling around in order to do guest appearances could be prestigious – but a fixed starting point was necessary. A home was a safe ground, a means to demonstrate wealth and through that stability – making it, in turn, possible to be ‘bohemian’. Being ‘bohemian’ could get represented by very different means. Some artists expressed it through their clothes, others through an eccentric lifestyle (parties, ‘scandals’ and so on). Some actors/actresses extended the stage into their homes by using their private rooms for publicity. Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923), world famous French actress, can be named as one of the best known examples: She bought a white coffin and used it for “recreation.” It stood in her bedroom and pictures showing her lying in the box were spread over the whole globe. Nevertheless, also Bernhardt always emphasized the importance of her home, even though (or perhaps because of) she was off for months and years when touring the globe. The realities of mobility had not necessarily changed since especially among older actors and actresses travelling might even have increased due to an intensive phase of guest appearances. Actors and actresses nevertheless gave the appearance of being stable – or in other words of living a bourgeois life.

Through their dwellings, actresses and actors were able to position themselves in society. To artists, their homes could become another kind of stage: here they were able to prove their economic well-being and their social compliance. Homes positioned artists as members of society by presenting – and very often pretending – stability and anchorage at a certain place in space. Mobility was, nevertheless, part and parcel of their public personas and apparent in romantic ideals of wandering artists combined with troubled representations of unreliable tramps. Homes enabled artists to perform a certain kind of bohemian identity – and to nevertheless remain (partly) accepted members of ‘better’ society. Their modes of mobility created a whole network of homes for them – which underlines that it is entirely wrong to think of mobile people as of “homeless.”

Ute Sonnleitner is head of the department of education of ÖGB-Steiermark (Austrian Federation of Trade Unions – Styria) and lecturer at Karl-Franzens-University Graz.

Home on the Rails

By Amanda Stevens

This paper was presented as part of Mobile and Temporary Domesticities, 1600-2017 held at the Geffrye Museum of the Home in London on the 10th October 2017. 

The starting point for most historians of the railway has been the locomotive engine  – not the carriages which are my focus.  When carriages are highlighted it tends to be because they are special or unique in some way; this is particularly true for the period 1920–1955, when the new media of TV and cinema and the ‘popular’ magazine for home and fashion became more widespread. Penny Sparke, a design historian of the twentieth century, argues that parallels can be made between the railway carriage and the domestic parlour and it is this observation which has prompted my testing of the railway carriage interior for its potential in understanding home-making practices in temporary, moving environments.

My investigation has been helped by using the socio-scientific methods and ethnographic practice of scholars Laura Watts and David Bissell. Their work explores the experience of moving through space and time in a contemporary railway carriage, and centres on the way the individual passenger actively interacts with, affects and is affected by the material environment. Of particular relevance to my project are the links Bissell makes between the materiality of the interior of the carriage and ‘practices of vision’ in the design and layout of the carriage which facilitates changes in the gaze of passengers and affects their bodily movement. These are ideas which I have applied in my own practice; on a visit to the Great Western Railway (GWR) super saloon, for example, I sat in carriage chairs, moved them around, and opened and closed the doors thereby experiencing the space of the carriage, though the train itself was static.

Interior of a 1932 Great Western Railway super saloon with doors closed.

The super saloon is pictured above here. Although it has been restored, the original interior was designed by Trollope and Sons, a firm at the forefront of the interior decoration business for élite Londoners between 1860 and 1880, but in decline during the period of this project. The winged four-legged chairs are separate and individually upholstered in gold tapestry moquette. Each chair has access to a table and curtains and lines up with the windows so all passengers have a view of both the exterior landscape as well as the interior. There is the potential for passengers to make and unmake their space by moving the chairs and the foot stools or hassocks (which can’t be seen here but are marked on a diagram of the carriage). In the carriage, individual lamps at elbow height, folding tables and curtains of gold and silk damask add to the feeling of domesticity as do the carpets which were in brown Wilton laid on underfelt. All of the materials used here would have had a deadening effect, muffling the sound of voices in the carriage and the noise of the train itself. The interior of the carriage appears to offer a sense of privacy, comfort and even protection from the physical impact of travelling in what railway historian Wolfgang Shivelbusch termed ‘the machine ensemble’.

The interior of the super saloon is finished in dark walnut panelling, which might have contributed to an impression of heaviness and even claustrophobia when the doors were slid shut. Yet the carriage also offers a sense of control, or autonomy, for the traveller who has the freedom to set his or her chair at an angle where personal space can be optimised, and the gaze controlled. Although there is a sense of confinement in these carriages, there must also have been a sense of security and familiarity for the wealthy passenger travelling from London by train  One such traveller may have been cigar magnate Charles van Raalte. The parallels between the domestic interior of his house in London in 1890 and the railway carriage are striking: the individual, movable, tapestried chairs with wings; the dark heavy wood doors, panelling and screening for privacy, and the thickly carpeted floors. The carriage created the illusion that the first-class traveller had hardly left home.

An interior from the house of Charles van Raalte (courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum).

The evocation of home was possibly a deliberate part of the marketing strategy of GWR, as the super saloons from London Paddington to Plymouth were commissioned to supplement luxurious Pullman carriages utilised principally on routes between London Victoria and Dover for the boats to Europe and beyond. In contrast, passengers who travelled third class to the coast (there was no second class during this period), would have been conveyed in an ‘open’ aspect carriage with a distinctive central corridor. In these carriages, there was some partial internal partitioning but the seats were built in. The passenger’s gaze would have been directed at the person opposite, affording no sense of privacy or autonomy.  Although other carriages for third-class passengers did have compartments with access via a side corridor, these also had fixed seating, and the interior was decorated with very limited use of wood veneer and few soft furnishings.

The intention of my research project ‘Home on the Rails’ is also to study dining and kitchen spaces and sleeping carriages and compare them with their contemporary domestic spaces. Being part of a panel at the Mobile and Temporary Domesticities -workshop has enabled me to generate further class, gender and material associations with moving and static interiors.

Amanda Stevens is a PhD student with the Open University and National Railway Museum and is looking at the interior design and decoration of railway carriages between 1920 and 1955.

Mary Countess of Home; Elite Homemaking in England and Scotland in the Seventeenth Century

By Michael Pearce 

A version of this paper was presented as part of Mobile and Temporary Domesticities, 1600-2017 held at the Geffrye Museum of the Home in London on the 10th October 2017. 

In the seventeenth century, Scottish aristocrats were frequent travellers. This post focuses on Mary, Countess of Home, (1586-1644), who was the focus of my paper at the workshop, and appears in my research for the “Vanished Comforts” project, an AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Award with the National Museums Scotland and the University of Dundee.

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Close up of Wenceslaus Hollar, Map of the British Isles with battle ships in the North Sea…1620, C 1659 (©Trustees of the British Museum)

Mary Dudley was a cousin of Lucy Russell, the Countess of Bedford, and friend of Lady Ann Clifford. She married Alexander, 1st Earl of Home, in 1605. The marriage was intended to mark the union of the crowns of Scotland and England, and the family travelled frequently between homes in both countries. When Mary was widowed in 1619, she continued to build and extend family town houses in Edinburgh and London. Interestingly, the planning of Moray House in Edinburgh owed nothing to the traditional layout of Edinburgh townhouses, or indeed to previous Scottish architecture. It was, instead, intended to realise some of the functions of a London townhouse, with a disproportionate number of reception rooms. The furnishing too were bought in London and echoed court furniture and taste. The street balcony room, for example, was furnished in black and gilt with a black day couch; the drawing chamber with a green velvet day couch with silver lace; on the ground floor there were ‘vault rooms’ with couches, Italian chairs, paintings and marble tables. What exactly the response to Lady Home’s décor in Scotland was is difficult to know, but it clearly reflected English court culture and new fashions in a way that is hard to detect in other Scottish inventories of the period. Lady Home did not have the deep purse of the Whitehall collectors or the networks of international contacts, but she was the first to bring a comprehensive London style to Edinburgh.

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A gilded couch of ‘carved work like scallop shells’ cost Lady Home £4-16s in 1644. (Image from C.J. Richardson, Studies from Old English Mansions, vol. 2, London, 1842)

Perhaps because of the frequent movement between different households, Lady Home kept detailed inventories of the furnishings of all her houses, which she called ‘counts’. Most of the text was written by her Scottish servants, but she added notes herself, as did her housekeepers. These documents reveal that the Countess brought along some of her best things as she travelled between her homes in Canongate in Edinburgh and Aldersgate in London. Most startlingly, the entire cabinet of her ‘favourite things’ was recreated in London and Edinburgh on an almost seasonal basis. The cabinet contained two chairs, glasses, crystal, agate and amber bottles associated with ‘physic’, paintings, and scientific objects including a telescope, magnets, and a weather glass, which she gave to a friend.

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A note by Mary Countess of Home, 10 August 1642, (National Register of Archives for Scotland, 217 box 5 no. 12)

When the Countess died in 1644, her furnishings were to be divided between her daughters, Margaret, Lady Moray, and Anne, Lady Lauderdale. The inventories show that at the time of her death, some of her cabinet things were in London and some in Edinburgh, and surviving papers detail the division of the cabinet furnishings between the sisters, and the difficulties they encountered. Initially, items in London were marked on the inventories with a cross, but this system quickly broke down and other lists were made to try and reconcile items and the sisters; one has a heading that reveals the problem:

‘A note of the closset in the Canongait. Ane not of such thingis as is set doune in the cabinat of the Canongait that is not set down in the cabinet in Aldersgate streit’

In another document, Margaret, Lady Moray, described what her husband Lord Moray should claim for her in London; her recollection of things that properly belonged in the Edinburgh cabinet, included:

‘thair is many littill small things that stand in the closset that is not nameit all which is to be devydit’

In May 1645, Margaret’s share of the furniture was shipped to Scotland, and many of these items can be identified in additions to the inventory made by the housekeeper Dorothy Spense. Margaret eventually set up her cabinet room at Donibristle with her share of her mother’s things. At the same time, furnishings were consigned to the youngest daughter Anne, in Lauderdale, including a group of items originally at Dunglass Castle, as per their contract:

Earl of Murray’s bond for Dunglasse Stuff

We James Earl of Murray and Margaret Countess of Murray faithfully bind and obliges us to deliver to John Earl of Lauderdale [… ] all that belonged to Dunglasse that is now in the Canongate […] excepting such as by the books appear to have been since appointed for the houses in the Canongate Floores or Twitnam, 21 May 1645 London.

This was not the end of the movement of ‘stuff’ however. The Earl of Lauderdale was declared a delinquent in 1650 and the Aldersgate and Highgate House were sequestered. At the restoration Lauderdale was entitled to recover furnishings, and some of Lady Home’s possessions may have eventually have found their way to Thirlestane Castle in the Scottish Borders and Ham House, outside London. Lauderdale embellished Ham House and Gardens with items taken from his mother-in-law’s houses: in 1671 his son-in-law Lord Yester wrote from Highgate that he had ‘quite spoyld the gardens there by taking all the best fruit trees and carrying them to Hame’

These inventories show that aristocrats were used to travelling, and that some possessions were not permanently located in any home. Some furnishings, like leather hangings, were moved for redecoration and embellishment of other houses. But other objects, particularly the paintings and treasures of the cabinet, moved with Lady Home seasonally between Edinburgh and London. She ultimately found her system of ‘counts’ unwieldy, and was unable to reconcile, for example, the Turkish or turkey work carpets recorded by her housekeeper Mary Reid with her own ‘book of many sundry particular things’. The system also caused problems after her death for her daughters as they attempted to fairly share her things. The same issue problematizes our study of inventories when we realise how mobile aristocrats might be and how many of their things accompanied them on their travels, which may not be evident in most inventories. We should also consider how the ‘mobile cabinet’ may have been a social, recreative, and also an affective space which accompanied Lady Home both in London and Edinburgh.

Michael Pearce researches material culture and patronage in Scotland. He worked with Historic Environment Scotland (2000-2015) researching the conservation of interiors, and was involved in research for the palace project at Stirling Castle where a number of rooms were ‘re-created’ in period style. His PhD ‘Vanished Comforts’ (2016) used Scottish inventories and accounts to examine ideas of formality and agency in reception rooms, especially those of women patrons.


Twitter: @restalrig








Changing journeys into journeyscapes: enhancing women’s control over their domestic violence mobility

By Janet Bowstead

This paper was presented as part of Mobile and Temporary Domesticities, 1600-2017 held at the Geffrye Museum of the Home in London on the 10th October 2017. 

How does a piece of land become more like a landscape? How does it change from a fragment, a piece, a glimpsed backdrop that does not make sense as a whole – to become a meaningful, coherent vista? A landscape is an area that you can navigate through, that has maps and paths and alternative routes; that provides viewpoints and restpoints. Others can understand the landscape too – and help you by suggesting routes, waypoints, milestones and features to look out for to reassure you that you are going the right way. Even if you are on your own at that moment, you can have a sense that you’re somewhere that others have travelled before – and know that they reached their destination.


This is the thinking behind research to change journeys into “journeyscapes”. The journeys in question are women’s journeys – often with their children – to escape an abusive partner. All too often, beyond the original escape, the journeys continue to be fragmented and disorientating over both time and space. Women have little control over their mobility – where they go, how long they stay in temporary accommodation, whether they have to keep on moving.

They have escaped a controlling situation – to quote a research interviewee:

“I felt forced into everything really; because it was just such a very controlled house. Everything had to be done in a certain way; and just – I don’t know – the only person who seemed to be able to come and go as they pleased was him [ex partner]. You know, everything else had to be like the way he wanted it.”

[Louise – Age 28, with 7 year old girl. White British ethnic origin. Journey from rented social housing in a city in Wales to private rented in a town in a Rural area.]

However, their domestic violence journeys often have further multiple stages required by services, policies and authorities, over which they have no say; and for which they cannot plan:

“I feel, when I move now, it’s going to be harder for me to settle down – because I’ve gone round and round. So just to get my mind in one place and think – yes: if I know I’m going to be in one place for more than a year then I’ll be happy! Because it’s just been eight months here, eight months there, and I’m thinking – I might as well get a caravan and just ride around in it! [laughs] At least it’s on wheels and I can move – and I’m in one house! So it’s just – and for my daughter as well – different areas, different nurseries and stuff like that – I just want her to be in one place with me.”

[Jenny – Age 21, with 3 year old girl. Mixed White/Black Caribbean ethnic origin. Journey from private rented to rented social housing within London.]

The issue is not that women should not make these journeys. For many women, staying put would mean their lives continued to be restricted and unsafe, and relocation brings positive gains:

“I’m in a different world – completely! I’m free. I feel like I’ve come out of prison in a sense; where I was completely dictated to – now I’m free! If I want to go down town – I go! I haven’t got to worry about anybody. Not so much worrying about their meals and such; but I haven’t got to rush back in case he gets annoyed that I’m not here. If I want to stay out all day – I can. I’m not controlled – I’ve got the control; I’ve taken the control back – which is important.”

[Elizabeth – Age 56, with an adult son. White British ethnic origin. Journey from owner-occupied in London suburbs to rented social housing in a very Rural area.]

However, at present, in the UK, domestic violence journeys are made more fragmented by the lack of recognition – in law and practice – that they are these complex journeys; and this makes them more risky, costly and disruptive for the women and children involved. This can be contrasted with the concept of a functional scale for domestic violence journeys – “journeyscapes” – whereby women and children travel as far as they need to escape the abuse, but are not forced any further due to administrative boundaries or services. Changing these journeys into journeyscapes could enable more effective responses so that women only make the journeys that are strictly necessary, and are more smoothly and swiftly able to move to where they can settle and rebuild their fragmented lives. A society which thinks and responds more coherently in terms of policy, services and rights could journeyscape women’s experiences and help them re-establish control over their sense and reality of home.

Janet Bowstead is British Academy Post Doctoral Fellow in Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London.


The Many Lives of Tarpaulin: Thinking about Temporary Homes on the Radio

A version of this paper was presented at Mobile and Temporary Domesticities, 1600-2017 held at the Geffrye Museum of the Home in London on the 10th October 2017. This post originally appeared at History Matters.

By Dina Gusejnova

Tarpaulin – or tarp – is a piece of canvas, which is covered in oil, wax, tar or a synthetic material to make it water repellent. It has always been very widely used by sailors and all connected to the sea but also in wars and, most recently, in refugee camps.

My paper at the workshop on Mobile and Temporary Domesticities focused on a BBC Radio 4 broadcast programme which I wrote and recorded with producer Sara Parker for JuniperTV, an independent radio and TV production company directed by Samir Shah. The 28-minute programme is called Tarpaulin – a biography, and explores the themes of citizenship, statelessness and belonging through a history of the fabric.

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The career of the English word ‘tarpaulin’, from practical object to the metaphor of the common sailor or Jack Tar, attracted the interest of the sociologist Norbert Elias, who later became famous as the author of a book called The Civilising Process.  In exile from Nazi Germany, Elias became fascinated by the reported resilience of the Jack Tars, self-made men sleeping on deck under a sheet of tarpaulin who could be promoted to be captains of the British navy. As someone who was learning English, Elias noticed that tarpaulin was one of the words featuring in the so-called Seaman’s Grammars and naval dictionaries, which had proliferated since the seventeenth century. The result of his research was a dry article called ‘Studies in the Genesis of the Naval Profession’, published in the first issue of the British Journal of Sociology in 1950. In his view, which echoed those of writers such as Samuel Pepys, Daniel Defoe and Thomas Macaulay, it was the tarpaulins that had made the British empire great. I decided to follow Elias’s history by restoring the place of this fabric in the lives of others. At the time of writing, Elias was a stateless person; he would only be naturalised in 1952. In fact, spectacularly, as I learned recently at the National Archives at Kew, his naturalisation certificate gets the spelling of his name wrong: it was spelt “Alias”, as if his new citizenship were in fact a mere alias. His mother had perished at Auschwitz. Elias himself was among thousands of Germans – most of them of Jewish origin – who had been interned on the Isle of Man as ‘enemy aliens’ in 1940.

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Elias’s story – and that of tarpaulin itself — has obvious resonance in the present. Thanks to a fortuitous acquaintance with the rock singer Mitch Mitchell of the Wild Angels, whom I had met some time before that in a Cambridge pub, the producer Sara Parker and I were able to join him on one of his regular trips to Calais. We found ourselves there as guests of a young Eritrean family who had cooked a delicious meal in the middle of the place we know as the Jungle. It was particularly difficult to speak to the refugees, who needed to protect their identity and thus remain, to a large extent, without a voice. Could I invite Afghan law students Jami and Davi to apply for one of the refugee scholarships advertised at British universities, if there was no legal way for them to cross the Channel? On our return to London, 1960s Rock was blasting through the sound system of Mitch’s car, and he explained, as he had done before in interviews, that the refugees in Calais made him think of his own great-grandmother, who had escaped the pogroms in Eastern Europe to settle in London´s East End. Insofar as this piece is a work of histoire engagée, it asks: Why have so many other Europeans – why have so many British people around us – become so heartless that they feel neither solidarity with the bombed-out populations of the Middle East and Afghanistan, nor understanding for the political disenchantments of their own fellow citizens living beyond the limits of London?



In the programme, listeners hear a variety of dialects and accents, which they might struggle to follow, whether they are foreign or merely regional. This difficulty is intentional, and requires an emotional and intellectual commitment. The radio is uniquely suited to imagine an absence of things which neither the listeners nor the speakers can see: the right to citizenship, for example, the attachment to home, however makeshift it might be, or the disengagement from one’s own state. Like tarpaulin, ideas like ‘citizenship’ might change their form over time, from flax and cotton to canvas and plastic mesh, but they never lose their essential human substance.

Being a kind of migrant myself, albeit a privileged one, I envy those native speakers who are able to inhabit their own language like a second skin. This exploration of the story of tarpaulin is my attempt to learn an English word. A fine word, carefully placed, can touch you before you understand what it means. I hope that recognising its presence in your life will connect you to that of others. The people living under tarpaulin might seem to belong nowhere, but, I would argue, they are in fact today’s true citizens of the world.

Dina Gusejnova is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. She works on European intellectual history and the social history of ideas in the twentieth century in transnational perspective. Her first book, European Elites and Ideas of Empire, 1917-57 (2016), explores connections between ideas of Europe and imperial memory in elite intellectual milieus. She recorded The Tarpaulin – A Biography for BBC Radio 4 in 2016 with Sara Parker as producer. 



Floating Neighborhoods: Living Together on the East-of-Suez Steamships of the French and British Empires, c. 1880 – 1930

This paper was presented at Mobile and Temporary Domesticities, 1600-2017 held at the Geffrye Museum of the Home in London on the 10th October 2017. 

By Charles Fawell 

My paper, “Floating Neighborhoods: Living Together on the East-of-Suez Steamships of the French and British Empires, c. 1880 – 1930”, examined steamship travel between Western Europe and East Asia via the Suez Canal. The paper emerged partly out of dissatisfaction with the limits and boundaries of scholarship that discusses life at sea and travel during the Age of Steam. Maritime and economic historians have scrutinized the business operations, port politics, and technological processes of the Age of Steam, but in the process, have often neglected the “human resources” of the steamship. Social and labour historians have remedied this oversight somewhat, but they have tended to highlight one single category of worker (by profession, ethnicity, etc.), and to tether their studies to the terra firma of port-cities. Steamship décor and luxury tourism have also attracted great scholarly attention, but absent deep social contextualization, such work risks privileging the perspective of only the most elite travellers.

Image from A Trip to the Orient; A Story of a Mediterranean Cruise, (1907) 

One implication emanating from the ensemble of existing scholarship, I feared, was that ship-space represents a non-place: a transitory in-between through which people passed, but in which they did not dwell or meaningfully interact with others – in short, a place of banality and social atomization, relevant only insofar as it produced economic growth, technological progress, or aesthetic achievements. To be clear, these kinds of implications do not only emerge from recent scholarship: many contemporaries of the “golden age” of Steam (roughly 1880-1930) also downplayed the richness of place and social relations on-board long-haul steamships. Turn-of-the-century globetrotters, for instance, portrayed steamships as having become comfortable to the point of inanity, while maritime magnates emphasized its rigid compartmentalization of class, race, and gender, suggesting a kind of segregated, model polis for a fin-de-siècle bourgeoisie in colonial settings.


In my paper, I outlined a research perspective that could re-interpret the fin-de-siècle steamship (a) as a site of social complexity in which home and community were, if not always everyday realities, at least animating goals for travelers, but also (b) as a site in which the inhabitants must be studied relationally. On-board structures of racial, class, and gender segregation were all too real, but I argued that there were nonetheless forces pushing back strongly against them. Indeed, tensions over boundary-breaking and contagion were integral elements of domesticities in motion. Wandering children and animals; meandering odors, noises, and regards; feuding between different classes of passengers; panics over disease: all exposed the fantasy of perfectly segregated lodgings, suggesting that at the apex of European colonialism, steamships were host to chaotic, interconnected processes of mobile home-making.

The ship-space, I argued, was characterized by a shared sensorium, itself the result of the multi-functional uses of ship-space. Passengers, workers, cargo and animals co-mingled in what were simultaneously vessels of migration, tourism, military force, and trade. In this setting, odors, sounds, and sights tended to bleed across boundaries of race and class. Indeed, despite the best efforts of traveling elites and ship officials, passengers and workers were constantly reminded they were all, quite literally, on the same boat. And with the whole ladder of colonial societies packed into steamships – from imperial prefects to coalers and stowaways – there was a never-ending process of negotiation over the dwelling practices and embodied behaviors of one’s neighbors. On a Marseille – Saigon voyage in the early 1900’s, for example, first-class passengers complained bitterly to their ship’s captain about the odors emanating from songbirds kept by Chinese “coolies” working on-board, and the sanitary danger posed by the pets. The captain ordered the birds to be evacuated during the coming layover in Singapore, only to watch helplessly as his sorely-needed “coolie” workers marched off en masse in protest, slipping away into the bustling port city and leaving his ship badly undermanned. As the fears of those passengers suggest, panics of diseases were the ultimate reminder that passengers were all more inter-connected, their destinies more lumped together, than they liked to believe. Indeed, it was when senses collided and overlapped that the steamship’s paradoxes became clear: a luxury hotel for some, a coal plant for others; an instrument of imperial power, and an emerging pleasure-space of the tourism industry; a symbol of remoteness and isolation, yet a cauldron of interactions across class and race.

The framework of “mobile and temporary domesticities” is crucial to the kind of analysis I proposed in this paper. Indeed, only by taking seriously the transitory dwelling practices that occurred on inter-oceanic ships can we begin to do justice to their social complexity. The place-making that occurred aboard these ships took on many forms: beyond the ubiquitous dances, concerts and charity galas, there were passenger-published newspapers, sea rituals, and religious ceremonies – not to mention scrapbooking, photography and journaling. Such practices should, I believe, attract our attention for a number of reasons, but perhaps above all because they mattered to the travelers themselves: from the globalized workforce who spent so much of their lives aboard these ships, to the colonial society who spent months every year going back and forth between metropole and colony; and of course, to the millions of inter-oceanic migrants who would carry minute memories of the ships that took them away from home. In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, such travelers were enacting “globalization” as we know it today. Without continuing to develop the concept and research methods of mobile and temporary domesticities, the human dimensions of that process of global integration can all too easily elude our grasp.

Charles Fawell is a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, currently conducting research in France, the U.K., and Vietnam with the support of the Georges Lurcy and Chateaubriand Fellowships. His dissertation, entitled “In-Between Empires: Travel, Space, and Sovereignty along the Maritime Routes of Imperial France and Great Britain” explores the social dynamics and spatial politics of large steamships navigating between Western Europe and East Asia, from roughly 1870 to the Interwar Period. This project pursues an ethnographically-informed micro-history of the typical colonial-era steamship, while situating it within the political geography of a route extending from Marseille to Yokohama.