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Department of History

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Adrian Green

2007 'Confining the vernacular: the seventeenth-century origins of a mode of study', Vernacular Architecture 38, pp. 1-7

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Although 'vernacular architecture' was first formulated in the nineteenth century and expanded into a sub-discipline of historical enquiry in the twentieth, its antecedents can be traced to the seventeenth century. In later seventeenth-century Britain, members of the educated classes — who formed part of a newly standardised national culture that was demarcated as 'polite' — categorised the rest of society as an object of study. Between around 1650 and 1725, observers took a direct interest in the manners and customs of the populace, which was not fully revived until the nineteenth century, when the concept of the vernacular replaced ideas of the vulgar. Study of the vernacular reflects a stratified society, and it is no surprise to find its origins in this period of social polarisation. What remains problematic about the concept is that it may disguise the very processes it purports to explain. Recognition of the social relations, and tensions between national and regional culture, involved in the origins of ideas about the vernacular, may suggest that its usage ought now to be confined to history.