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"Er Indoors': Domesticity and Nature in Home and Garden


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Watch Sophie talking about ‘Er Indoors'

Provisional Programme

A one-day interdisciplinary conference

Saturday 23rd November 2019

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Professor Ben Highmore, Cultural Studies, University of Sussex

Dr Lisa Taylor, Head of Media, Leeds Beckett University

The domestic garden represents, for many, the closest and most significant contact that they have with the natural environment. The relationship of humans with this domestic outdoor space, in which nature can be ‘controlled’ by the householder, is often very different to that with ‘wild nature’, to be found in the countryside and national parks. Efforts to find a key to significant behavioural change leading to sustainable living are vital to the future health of both people and planet and grow more urgent with every new warning from scientists. Domesticity and Nature in Home and Garden seeks to provide a fresh, interdisciplinary perspective on the interaction of humans with the environment by focusing on the relationship between the house and the garden across time and place, on the ways in which family life occurs in the domestic space and how it moves between the indoors and the outdoors. This conference will, through possible subsequent academic publication and alongside ongoing public engagement, promote a rethink of our place in the nature that is on our doorstep.

Faith in scientific progress during the mid-twentieth century led many to believe that the relationship between the domestic house and garden need only be considered aesthetically, since all the problematic elements, such as the ingress of mud and pests, and the sourcing of food, would be solved by experts. Meanwhile, the garden began to resemble the house, with concrete and chemicals enabling householders to exclude mud and pests here too, whilst developments in the food industry left domestic vegetable growing the preserve of stalwart old men. The resulting conceptual separation of the domestic house and garden from wider nature remains in evidence today. Domesticity and Nature in Home and Garden will look again at all aspects of the relationship between the inside and the outside of the home and will consider what we might learn from these relationships in the past and in other cultures. It will seek to make connections between disciplines, and to build on work in Media and Cultural Studies, and in English that has begun to examine links between house and garden, and the liminality of domestic spaces. It will explore the lives of natural things within the home, whether pets and houseplants or vermin and pollution, as well as the nature of domesticity when taken out of doors, both in the garden, and beyond. It will consider the impact of gender, class, domestic service and health concerns on the domestic division of labour in indoor and outdoor space.

This conference will appeal to scholars from diverse fields who are concerned with environmental issues in the domestic setting. Every time and place has a domestic culture of the inside and the outside that can be critically examined and compared. Areas of interest will include, but will not be limited to, the lived experience, whether human, animal or vegetable, of the domestic home and garden, the purposes of domestic outdoor activity and how these relate to the indoors, the classification of the domestic garden as a public or a private space, the role of tradition or modernity in defining the boundaries of the home and garden space, and the changing definitions of a healthy home, a healthy garden, and its healthy occupants. The lived experience of domesticity inside and outside can reshape understandings of health, wellbeing and the human relationship to the environment; its study may provide new approaches to productively discuss our future domesticities in the context of combatting climate change. This work is of clear significance to the world beyond the academy.

Participants will be drawn from a range of disciplines with interests spanning, though not restricted to, the humanities, with a balance between contributions adopting historical perspectives and those which critically examine areas of contemporary practice. In bringing historical accounts into dialogue with present practices, Domesticity and Nature in Home and Garden will create a new understanding of relationships between health, domesticity and the environment.

N.B. Up to 5 student and early-career Society for the Social History of Medicine travel bursaries are available to attendees who are SSHM members. Further details can be found here.

For further details please contact Sophie Greenway:

Woman's Outlook 20 June 1942

Woman's Outlook 20 June 1942, courtesy of Co-operative Press Ltd /

Sponsored by the Royal Historical Society

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the Society for the Social History of Medicine