My doctoral research investigated class conflict and social mobility in Edwardian Britain (1901-1914) using a dataset of 3,000 book inscriptions. As part of this research, I developed an ethnohistorical approach to multimodality, which blended visual analysis with archival and historical research and theory from book history and social history. I explored the types of inscriptions present in books bought and exchanged in Edwardian Britain; the ways in which inscriptive practices varied according to location, gender, age, social class and occupation; the material and semiotic features of inscriptions; and their communicative and performative purposes.
My findings revealed that inscriptive choices were primarily influenced by ‘class-based affordances’ that centred on the social status and wealth of book owners, as well as Edwardian social conventions and norms. For the working classes, inscriptions represented pride at owning books for the first time, while the lower-middle classes used inscriptions as symbolic gestures of social mobility to gain social capital and respect from peers. In contrast, the upper classes, who feared the collapse of hierarchical society, saw inscriptions as a way of advertising their wealth and high social status. However, there is some indication that the upper-middle classes were more willing to embrace lower-class inscriptive practices.
My postdoctoral research builds upon my previous research by (1) exploring how my PhD findings can improve current practices in archives and libraries, particularly in terms of the representation of working-class books/inscriptions; (2) considering what Edwardian book inscriptions can reveal about working-class literacies and political mobilisation; and (3) investigating similarities between identity performance in Edwardian book inscriptions and social media.
In order to promote these objectives, I am organising a digital and physical exhibition of Edwardian working-class book inscriptions (Prize Books and Politics). I am also developing a monograph for Routledge’s Research in Literacy series (Social, Communicative, and Performative Functions of Edwardian Book Inscriptions: Taking a Multimodal Ethnohistorical Approach).
The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/profiles/lauren-alex-o-hagan-316470