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Artifacts

How We Think and Write about Found Objects

In the eighteenth century, antiquaries—wary of the biases of philosophers, scientists, politicians, and historians—used old objects to establish what they claimed was a true account of history. But just what could these small, fragmentary, frequently unidentifiable things, whose origins were unknown and whose worth or meaning was not self-evident, tell people about the past?

In Artifacts, Crystal B. Lake unearths the four kinds of old objects that were most frequently found and cataloged in Enlightenment-era England: coins, manuscripts, weapons, and grave goods. Following these prized objects as they made their way into popular culture, Lake develops new interpretations of works by Joseph Addison, John Dryden, Horace Walpole, Jonathan Swift, Tobias Smollett, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, among others. Rereading these authors with the artifact in mind uncovers previously unrecognized allusions that unravel works we thought we knew well.

In this new history of antiquarianism and, by extension, historiography, Lake reveals that artifacts rarely acted as agents of fact, as those who studied them would have claimed. Instead, she explains, artifacts are objects unlike any other. Fragmented and from another time or place, artifacts invite us to fill in their shapes and complete their histories with our imaginations. Composed of body as well as spirit and located in the present as well as the past, artifacts inspire speculative reconstructions that frequently contradict one another. Lake's history and theory of the artifact will be of particular importance to scholars of material culture and forms. This fascinating book provides curious readers with new ways of evaluating the relationships that exist between texts and objects.

About the Author

Crystal B. Lake is a professor of English language and literatures at Wright State University. She is the cofounder and coeditor of The Rambling.

Endorsementss

"What is arresting about Lake's study is how she shows that the material turn must make space for textual forms, making a strong case for the place of text in manifesting the material. Artifacts is a pleasure to read, and scholars will respond with enthusiasm to its vision."

- Chloe Wigston Smith, University of York, author of Women, Work, and Clothes in the Eighteenth-Century Novel

"Artifacts is a fresh, perceptive examination of the intellectual roots and cultural diffusion of British antiquarianism during the long eighteenth century. Lake's original and important work has two key aims: to formulate a theory of the antiquarian artifact from the vantage of new materialism and to demonstrate that the artifact was central to—and gained definition from—ongoing conflicts over political agency."

- Barrett D. Kalter, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, author of Modern Antiques: The Material Past in England, 1660–1780

"Artifacts is an ambitious, original, and exciting project that explores the woefully under-studied representations and discussions of physical artifacts in literary works. It offers a rich investigation of the meanings of specific artifactual things and texts, their owners and authors, and illuminates the relationship between the study of materiality and contemporary questions about history and the conceptions of time, significance, epistemology, identity, politics, and genre."

- Barbara M. Benedict, Trinity College, author of Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry

"Bringing material cultural studies and the new materialism along with her, Crystal Lake takes a bold step into a new world of old things in the long eighteenth century. Artifacts features a wunderkammer full of fascinating objects that act as agents, speaking for themselves with an eloquence that Lake understands intimately and passes along to readers in her own compelling voice."

- Joseph Roach, Yale University, author of Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance

"Never has antiquarianism seemed so exciting. Crystal Lake's artifacts are an unruly bunch, perpetually speaking out of turn and abruptly changing political sides in their presentation of evidence. Lake's strikingly original account of these objects is both an embrace of history's 'bits and bobs' and an engagement with philosophical questions about how objects and their histories work."

- Ruth Mack, University at Buffalo, author of Literary Historicity: Literature and Historical Experience in Eighteenth-Century Britain

"This rich, compelling book establishes the 'artifact' as a key category of eighteenth-century scholarship. The artifact, Lake argues, is a thing that does things—but the things that artifacts do are hardly ever what people want. Artifacts argue and demonstrate, fragment and coalesce, become polemical, wax philosophical, wear out their welcome, and warrant dispute—every bit as much as the human actors they enliven and displace. Artifacts gathers these unruly objects in one place, assembling a counter-history of the Enlightenment. Along the way, it offers a surprising pre-history of vitalism: of the Romantic sort, but also of the new materialisms that vitalize the academy today."

- Sean Silver, Rutgers University, author of The Mind is a Collection: Case Studies in Eighteenth-Century Thought
Johns Hopkins University Press
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February 11, 2020
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