Sarah Laurenson, Edinburgh University 2015 The Conference Student Bursary
I was delighted to be invited to speak about my doctoral research on jewellery at The Costume Society’s 50th anniversary conference, ‘The Power of Gold’, in July. The Conference Student Bursary allowed me to attend the full programme of conference events at the V&A in London which, given that I am based at the University of Edinburgh, would not have been possible without support. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be involved.
The conference was directly relevant to my research on the material culture of jewellery in Scotland from 1780 to 1914. Jewellery is often missing from the histories of dress and fashion. In museums, jewellery artefacts are presented as disembodied objects rather than on dressed mannequins. Yet, as highlighted in Costume (Vol. 40, 2005) in relation to the Ruby Symposium, 'We wear dress and jewellery together – why separate them intellectually?' Working from this idea, my research uses dress history theories and methodologies to analyse jewellery objects as primary sources – as material evidence of the shifting relationship between producers and consumers in nineteenth-century Scotland. By concentrating on jewellery as one specific form of dress, my thesis contributes to wider debates on the interplay between the materiality and meanings of worn things.
‘The Power of Gold’ conference furthered my work on both an intellectual and a professional level. The seamless way in which the histories of dress and jewellery were explored helped me to further my own research ideas. For example, Natasha Awais-Dean’s paper on men and jewellery in Tudor and Jacobean England inspired me to draw more heavily on portraiture to understand how jewellery and clothing was important in constructing gender identities. The fascinating insights provided by Kate Wigley’s talk on the use of gold threads in royal fabrics helped me to think about how metals and textiles intersect within artefacts, and to consider the multitude of ways that this area might be examined.
The activities and influence of The Costume Society and Costume journal has heavily influenced my research thus far, and ‘The Power of Gold’ conference has been extremely useful in crystallising my interdisciplinary approach and informing my work as I enter my final PhD year. Attending the conference allowed me to make new connections and meet researchers from related fields, which I hope will lead to future collaborations. Overall, the conference was an inspiring and thought-provoking experience that marked an exciting moment for the historical study of costume and dress in all its forms.