We live during a time of remarkable technological innovation. Every generation has thought the same thing. Some of us are cowed by these developments, while others rush to embrace them.
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Technology in the Country House traces precisely the same ambivalent reaction to domestic technology over hundreds of years. For that reason, itís a wonderful addition to the bookshelves of those who already have many books on country house architecture, leisure activities, servants, furnishings and the like, but no clue as to how the occupants achieved a measure of comfort (or coped with the discomfort) over the long lives of the same houses.
Country houses were usually too far from urban centers to use centralized technological resources and so had to set up their own systems in order to improve the comfort of daily living. Some landowners did this, while others didnít. This book examines the motivations for their decisions.
After two introductory chapters which set technology in the context of the development and use of the country house itself, the chapters are arranged by type of technology: water supply and sanitation; lighting and energy production; heating and ventilation; food preparation and storage; communications; transportation; and security. The contents of each chapter are then presented chronologically.
The authors are singularly well-suited to their task. Professor Marilyn Palmer is the Emeritus Professor of Industrial Archaeology at the University of Leicester, and in 2015 was awarded an MBE for services to industrial archaeology and heritage.
Dr. Ian West, an archaeologist and engineer, is an Honorary Fellow of the same university. His personal research has focused on the impact of lighting technologies on industrial workplaces in Britain.
Together, the authors spent several years visiting heritage properties----both public and private----throughout Britain in order to amass this exhaustive study of the use and impact of technology on the domestic front from the 18th to the early 20th century.
The text is supported by a rich assortment of both colour and black and white photographs, together with line drawings. The illustration credits at the back of the book give the reader clear directions as to the source of the photograph, should further research be required.
In keeping with so many of the recent publications supported by Historic England, this work humanizes the past in a way which has not been achieved by so many other academic publications on the same subjects. It strives to provide the reader not only with an understanding of technological developments, but of the ways in which they changed the lives of the people for whom they were created.
Works like this one enliven the past in a way that allows us to empathize and fully with those who laid the paths we tread today. By gaining such insights, the relevance and critical importance of historical study is made obvious, to the greater good of all.
Technology in the Country House
By Marilyn Palmer and Ian West
Published by the National Trust and Historic England in collaboration
English Heritage: Technology in the Country House, £60; $53.84 US; $106 Canadian