The Transformation of Tradition: the Origins of the Post-medieval Ceramic Tradition in Yorkshire

The Transformation of Tradition: the Origins of the Post-medieval Ceramic Tradition in Yorkshire

Cumberpatch, C.G.

Assemblage, Issue 7 (2003)


My intention in this paper is to examine some of the explanations advanced for the changes seen in pottery making traditions in Yorkshire and neighbouring areas during the period between c.1450 and c. 1700. In addition to providing a critique of established views I hope to be able to suggest, in a preliminary way, an alternative perspective on the observation that, in a matter of a few generations, the established medieval potting tradition, which dated back to the mid 11th century, changed radically and fundamentally.

In prehistoric archaeology changes in social practice, manifested as changes in architectural expression, material culture styles or raw material exploitation, have prompted archaeologists to investigate the causes and parameters of change from a variety of theoretical standpoints. In contrast, historical archaeology in Britain has, until recently, taken the end of the medieval period (c. 1500) to be a kind of immutable barrier, after which concern becomes largely focused onto essentially technological questions surrounding the development of industrial and manufacturing processes (cf. Gaimster 1994, Johnson 1996 and Courtney 1997 for fuller discussions of the issue). This appears to contrast with history, a field in which the investigation of social and cultural change has outstripped archaeological perspectives (e.g. Smail 1992, Brewer and Porter 1993, Glennie 1995). There are welcome signs that this situation is beginning to change (including Egan and Michael 1999, Tarlow and West 1999, Gaimster and Stamper 1997) but, as I hope to show in this paper, much remains to be done. Specifically I hope to bring to the pottery of the post-medieval period a contextual archaeological perspective and to try to apply some of the principles and approaches which have proved useful in studies of earlier periods.

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