Connecting Early American Dwelling Artifactual Features to English Prototypes through Human Agency

by Lorraine Arnold, University of Leicester Thesis, 2019

This study looks at the connection between early American dwelling artifactual features and English prototypes as it relates to human agency. This is accomplished by diachronically examining who and what “agency” is and how behavior is manifested in the physical material of early American vernacular dwellings in connection with places of origin and migration. In the past archaeologists have touched on the idea of human agency in this regard, seeing evidence of unique features implemented in early American dwellings which replicate those used in specific regions in England. However, it is an undertaking few have had the time or resources to delve into. This study is a suggested approach to exploring this topic.

Viewing building features of 17th century vernacular dwellings as archaeological artifacts, unique features are chosen and matched with features in English counterparts. This endeavors to discover if the location of the prototype is in the town of the accredited agents’ birthplace providing an understanding of how the feature came to find a place on an early American dwelling. The purpose is to determine the relationship between human agency and physical material to gain an understanding of material culture, agency, migration and colonization.

Though the connection between early American dwellings’ features have been related to English counterparts by some scholars, most relegate the human agency of dwellings solely to the owner at the time of construction rather than consider that buildings were rarely created by a solitary individual. This study looks beyond the owner to consider tradesmen in the area at the time the dwelling was built. Examination is made of each potential individual, using the results to determine its relevancy to the unique artifactual features of 17th century dwellings in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

The research of this project has complex results which reveal the challenges of corroborating the physical artifactual material with documentary evidence and provides numerous opportunities to extend the examination through different approaches for various fields of study.

To obtain a copy of the thesis contact Lorraine Arnold at

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