Thursday, 24 April 2014

Designing Domesticity: Visual Techniques in Domestic Advice Books inBritain and the USA since 1945

Guest blog by Dr Grace Lees-Maffei, Reader in Design History, School of Creative Arts

As one of the successful applicants for the Arts & Humanities Research Council's (AHRC’s) Image Gallery, my online gallery for the AHRC website is composed of images from domestic advice books published after World War II.

Dr Grace Lees-Maffei
The AHRC’s Image Gallery was launched last summer to showcase the work and talents of the arts and humanities research community and to celebrate the role of the image in the arts and humanities, for which we source, select, caption and present digital images on the AHRC website.

Domestic advice books are one of several channels through which we receive guidance about what we do in our homes, along with magazines, advertising, marketing, and television. This advice quickly dates, so a continual stream of new advice books is produced.


Front cover of the
Creda Housecraft manual
Old advice books do not provide the historian with evidence of actual practice but they do offer insights into shared ideals of domesticity. Written largely by women, for women, these books are a valuable source in the feminist project of examining women’s writing and their little-seen experiences as home-makers.

Dr Lees-Maffei's new book: 
Design at Home: Domestic Advice 
Books in Britain and the USA since 1945
The page spreads and book covers showcased in the gallery illuminate the visual strategies employed by advisors in persuading their readers to adopt up-to-date home-making practices.

Techniques include direct personal appeals, such as advice presented in the form of a signed letter; recycling and adaptation of images; images subverting text; before and after comparisons and novelties such as text and images which emulate stitch, in reference to home crafts. The housewife is shown happily engaged in domestic work, which teenage readers are depicted as design professionals.

This gallery draws on an interdisciplinary research project supported by an AHRC

Research Leave award which resulted in my recent book ‘Design at Home: Domestic Advice Books in Britain and the USA since 1945'.

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