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What Is the ‘Georgian Worldview’ and How Has This Concept Influenced the Archaeology of Eighteenth-Century North America?

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What is the ‘Georgian worldview’ and how has this concept influenced the archaeology of eighteenth-century North America?

The ‘Georgian worldview’ is a theory that uses a study of cultural development to determine the thoughts of the eighteenth-century North Americans. It was initiated by James Deetz in his first edition of In Small Things Forgotten (1977). The term encapsulates Deetz’s structuralism-based idea that the evident alteration within English material culture and landscape design was more than a change in style, but a universal change in human consciousness—from medieval to modern—and this extended across the Atlantic despite the colony’s increasing political distance from the homeland (Deetz, 1996: 62-63; 2003: 221). Deetz believed that shared artefact form reflected shared thought (2003: 220). The theory has enabled historical archaeologists to recognise a distinctive shift in many areas of material culture which subsequently encouraged a succession of scholars to further this idea by posing key questions: why did the worldview develop, where else was a Georgian worldview visible, how did it present itself in areas outside New England? In the quest for answers to these questions, archaeologists have developed the concept which accordingly shaped interpretations of the material discoveries of eighteenth-century North America. Deetz’s model for the cultural development of New England illustrates that following an interval (1660-1760) of limited English influence on North American material culture, the contemporary homeland culture—which had recently been influenced by the rationality of the Enlightenment—became influential once again in the colony’s artefacts and landscapes (Deetz, 1996: 59-61). In proving his culturalist theory, Deetz focused on the development of academically styled houses (see figure 1) from the original vernacular design (see figure 2), the transition from the sharing of plates and chamber pots to the individualised usage of such technomic objects, and the whitening of small and large artefacts (ibid.: 126, 85; 2003: 222). The intrusion of the Georgian worldview is reflected in New England’s eighteenth-century architecture by its progression from asymmetrical, organic buildings to the planned, balanced and permanent expressions of Renaissance Palladian architecture; this style, often used by Inigo Jones, had been popular in England since the seventeenth-century (Deetz, 1996: 62, 66; Gable, 2004). Deetz based his interpretations of Georgian architecture on Glassie’s analysis of folk material culture (1972) in which the latter highlighted the floor plan’s bilateral symmetry as an imperative feature of the increasingly popular style (see figure 3) (1996: 66; Glassie, 1999: 314). Deetz viewed the desire for the North Americans’ distinctive designs as more than simply a stylistic preference; he instead drew upon the alterations in the smaller colonial objects to support his theory that the New Englanders’ minds had been affected (2003: 221; 1996: 174). Georgian New England’s rejection of corporate tendencies, and a taste for order and balance, manifested itself in the proportionately larger quantities of plates, chamber pots and other utensils in the post-1760 rubbish disposal pits and probate inventories (ibid.: 85-86). Likewise, a plea for control can be detected in the whitening of ceramics, gravestones and even houses as the designers pushed for distance from the natural, uncontrolled form (2003: 222). Deetz extends his theory as far as the butchering methods used by the colonisers of North America, registering new precision as a means of “portion control” (ibid.: 228); this example also corroborates his individualism opinion. Deetz’s innovative belief that the Enlightenment stimulated a novel reflection on the world—characterised by control and rationality—was the unquestioned undercurrent to consider when examining New England’s material culture from the eighteenth-century. His emphasis on deliberate order to subvert natural chaos reflects the alternative outlook of the Georgian worldview, but the author leaves the next question unanswered: why did the change occur? Deetz’s colleagues were grateful for his contribution to North American Georgian archaeology in suggesting a way to understand the minds of the eighteenth-century colonisers (Orser, 1998: 310). Annapolis’s school of archaeologists were not eager to question the validity of Deetz’s finds; instead they quickly strove to document the areas outside New England that demonstrated similar changes. The renaming of the Georgian worldview to the ‘Georgian Order’ (ibid.: 310) suggests that archaeologists began to view the change as an imposing structure, rather than an innocent outlook. Using the model for New England as a “convenient metaphor” (ibid.: 310), Leone searched for evidence of the Georgian Order in Annapolis, Maryland. He developed Deetz’s ideas of the Georgian worldview by using a Marxist stance to explain the cause of the altered mentality. Leone noted that the infiltration of the Georgian Order coincided with the rise of merchant capitalism (Leone, 2003: 237). In the debut of The Recovery of Meaning (1988), Leone provided the probate inventory data that encouraged him to interpret the new order to be a result of capitalism. The distribution of wealth had altered dramatically; in 1690, the poor people contributed 28% to the wealth of the colony, whereas they held only 3% in 1730. When this information is compared to the economic holdings of the wealthy settlers, who in 1730 equalled 18% of the population and held 78% of the wealth, Leone’s reading is justified (ibid.: 239-240). He understood the new order not to be a physical representation of worldviews, but of the social elite’s dominant ideologies (Leone, 1984: 26). These were artefacts that expressed attempts to mask the realities of the social order; to create a false consciousness to disguise the contradictions of the slave-owning, freedom-fighting society, to justify the wealth disparity, and ensure their position at the top of the social ladder (ibid.: 26). This idea built on Deetz’s perception that the Georgian worldview was originally echoed in social elite material culture and landscapes before being “passed slowly to their rural neighbors” (Deetz, 1996; 164). Although seemingly sensible, there was a serious disjunction in Leone’s analysis. Orser detected a significant reluctance of archaeologists using Deetz’s model to approach the concept of the Georgian Order in any manner other than as a culturalist would (1998: 311). The outcome of this hesitation was that Leone attempted to bring capitalism under the cultural banner and in doing this, he confined the Georgian Order again by cultural constraints. Although in direct opposition to some archaeologists, for example Yentsch (ibid.: 312), Leone culturalist position encouraged him to surmise that the capitalist culture dictated Georgian thought (Leone, 2003, 241). Had Leone accepted capitalism as a social phenomenon, Deetz’s concept would have progressed and developed far quicker. Leone legitimises his notion that capitalism is a culture by investigating the degree of functionalism within eighteenth-century Annapolis’s material culture and landscapes. He registers the rise and scope of capitalism in Annapolis as a three stage process (ibid.: 240). The first phase dates between 1710 and 1730 when the wealth disparity became evident. Leone argues that in this timeframe scientific measuring equipment, clocks and musical instruments accumulated within the middle and upper classes; they were used for measuring purposes, to provide precision and control, with the intent to demonstrate that the hierarchical quality of society and the measurements of nature itself favoured the wealthy, thus legitimising the inequality within the capitalist society (ibid.: 241). The redefining of the natural order carried out by those who could access the equipment reflects Leone’s dominant ideology theory and comforts Deetz’s structuralism approach. Leone used and adapted Deetz’s idea of individualism, apparent in sets of crockery and cutlery, to suggest the presence and acceptance of capitalism within eighteenth-century Annapolis. With the aid of inventories, Leone argued that between 1733 and 1777, sets of plates, cups and saucers, and cutlery became more popular, to the extent that the majority of all wealth groups obtained these matching sets by the middle of the eighteenth-century (Leone, 2003: 244). He viewed the non-communal sets of tableware as part of the new etiquette and work-discipline that stressed the “autonomous individual” who should strive for “personal fulfilment”; this internalized work ethic is a core aspect of the capitalist ideology (Leone, 2008: 102). As even the poorer members of society obtained sets of tableware, the spread of capitalism appears to have penetrated deep within the society of Annapolis. In 1992 Isaac supported this view in his argument that the widespread popularity of individual tableware reflected the mass production factor of the consumer revolution; an event that corresponded with the rise of capitalism (Isaac, 1992: 419). Leone’s most compelling evidence for a capitalist culture and the subsequent dominant ideologies is his interpretation of the Annapolis social elites’ gardens, specifically William Paca’s (Leone, 1984). Leone uses Isaac’s argument from 1982 that before the American Revolution, the severe inequalities and contradictions of colonial society made it frighteningly unstable. Therefore the wealthy used, and expressed through the Georgian order, Renaissance-style architecture and carefully planned gardens as ideological tools to convince others of society’s apparent natural structure and therefore, continue to reap the capitalist rewards (Leone, 1984: 26). Little also argued that newspaper layouts and grammar developed rules of presentation and demonstrated the pursuit of control within this period (Leone and Potter, 2003: 215). The gardens were ideological as their creation using precise measurements, optical illusions and segmentation expressed power and enabled control over the natural world (see figure 4) (Leone, 1984: 29-34). This implied that the rich were not only provided with, but deserved the right to economic and political control that they, incidentally, fiercely demanded in the revolution. As Hall succinctly states, these were ‘statements of wishes, not statements of facts’ (Hall, 1992: 382); they masked the reality of inequality. Leone’s development of Deetz’s original idea is significant as it directs scholars to a potential cause for the change in thinking, evident in the archaeology of eighteenth-century colonial America. Leone himself considers his addition of capitalism as the cause to be important to archaeologists as it provides a connection to life today (Leone and Potter, 2003: 214), thereby enabling the reader to understand his argument without extensive knowledge of the context. This interpretation, however, assumes that the ideological deceptions succeeded. Leone’s contribution encouraged archaeologists to investigate further: was the archaeology of North America evidence of the submission of the poorer classes? Or was there resistance to the idea and a realisation of the subliminal messages that the social elite were trying to enforce? Equally, was the Georgian material culture dictated by a cultural theme or was it an alternative contemporaneous occurrence? Archaeologists were not wholly satisfied by Leone’s contribution to interpreting the archaeology of eighteenth-century North America. Deetz’s theory of the Georgian worldview was constructed around the time that the popularity of social history as a discipline, increased. As one could argue the inevitability of a social approach, it is unusual that one did not transpire until approximately fifteen years after the birth of the Georgian worldview concept. Hall’s contribution to Georgian North American archaeology considers social relations; this facilitated a bottom-up approach to eighteenth-century material culture and landscapes, as opposed to the saturated top-down perspective. Hall’s developments of the Georgian order—specifically his connection between the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) and Virginia—highlighted that Deetz’s culturalist conclusion of an Enlightenment influenced worldview and Leone’s Marxist readings into the influences of capitalism may not be quite as accurate as they once appeared. To eliminate the Enlightenment as a factor, Hall examined the extent of its influence in South Africa - another region where symmetry and balance was a prominent feature in similar forms of material culture and landscapes. Hall argued that in contrast to England, the design of the houses did not fit with the typical Georgian style (classically inspired features and floor plans) but instead reflected ornate baroque qualities, thus suggesting the Cape of Good Hope had not been influenced by the Enlightenment (see figure 5) (Hall, 1992: 377). Likewise, the Westover house (see figure 6) in Tidewater Virginia was in keeping with the eighteenth-century stylistic ideas. By applying a discursive approach Hall uncovered the juxtaposition that the slave-keeping owner and builder of the house, William Byrd II, was not an enlightened gentleman, but a sexually promiscuous drunk. Similarly, if Georgian design was used as an ideological agent as Leone suggested, why would the Byrd family choose to decorate their privy so lavishly when no one but themselves could reflect on its representation? (ibid.: 374, 383) This point is furthered by Williamson who argues against the theory of disguise by stating these explanations have been applied to landscapes that are different in both layout and appearances. He continues to undermine Leone’s idea by questioning if gardens served the latter’s prescribed function, would the poor be permitted to enter such landscapes and then be so naïve as to accept the façade? (Williamson, 1999: 38). Taken into a different context, ideology can be a sufficient explanation as the designs functioned to convince an individuals of their personal position in the hypocritical society or, as the consumer revolution was in progress, impress others of a similar social standing (Hall, 1992: 383; 2000: 19). This notion is supported by more recent scholars such as Courtney (1996), Williamson (1999) and Hicks (2005). Hall’s research highlighted the importance of discourse and social inequalities in understanding the material culture of the eighteenth-century (Hall, 2000: 18). This comprehension enabled the comparison of public and hidden transcripts concerning slave and master relations which subsequently illustrated an atmosphere of instability as a result of both the Virginians’ and the Cape’s dependency on slaves. The Virginians and the Dutch in the Cape appear to express power and control over their environment, neither due to a new way of thinking nor dominant ideologies, but because they both owned large-scale slave systems whilst feeling threatened by the very institution that provided them with economic prosperity; the elite felt the need to reassert authority (ibid.:19, 24). Hall’s theory was validated by the confirmation of resistance in both colonies; public transcripts document slave insurrections and archaeological excavations unearth evidence of disobedience. Slave rebellions were commonplace in colonial America and one does not need to research hard to find an abundance of information. More subtle resistance, however, is more difficult to prove as in history, the slaves had no voice. Nevertheless, Hall has verified that not only were the slaves quietly disobedient, but they also understood the value and significance of certain aspects of elite material culture. Whilst excavating grainstore pits in the Dutch East India Trading Company’s Head Quarters (Cape Town), Hall identified Khoi pottery, ostrich eggs and clay tobacco smoking pipes that had been trimmed and reused, therefore implying the pit had been filled by slaves (the grainstore pits resembled the root cellars of Virginia - perhaps a similar form of resistance is yet to be discovered). The significant find in this pit was porcelain of the finest calibre (see figure 7). The African labourers certainly would not have been given or been able to purchase such a commodity. Hall proposed that the burying of this artefact was an act of resistance and as this item was so expensive, the slaves had a distinct understanding of the gravity of the disobedience they were involved with (Hall, 1992 :389-390). This goes someway to undermine Leone’s dominant ideologies perception as the porcelain was more than a utensil to the slaves, it was a triumph. Hall’s addition to the Georgian worldview concept has had major repercussions on Deetz’s original ideas. Not only has he added a social angle to the study, but he has demonstrated that the supposed ‘mind-set’ was in fact a response to the inequalities the Georgian elite had created and that the lower classes were not as ignorant as some archaeologists would believe. Georgian society was not entirely infiltrated by Enlightenment influences, or committed to producing and justifying profit. The eighteenth-century was a period of large-scale slave holdings and because of the economic transformation, society adapted accordingly presenting archaeologists with the visual transformation of a man-made world. Although scholars champion solely their own ideas, it would be too simplistic to reject all others. At the time of the revolution, North America was a highly diverse state, ripe with many areas of sectionalism; from loyalists to patriots, from embryonic abolitionist ideas to the staunchly pro-slavery republicans. Equally, where some plantation owners treated their slaves as animals, others practiced a policy of paternalism and were kinder. To claim that one cause could influence the entire Anglo-American colonies, as well as some overseas, would be naïve to the point of arrogance. This idea is supported by the fact that each scholar uses supporting evidence from different areas. In order to claim such all-encompassing ideas archaeologists need to find more examples of confirmation. The varying social, political and economic views and situations of the individual builders or owners could harbour the explanation for the stylistic change. The development of the Georgian worldview, from Deetz to Hall, demonstrates the progress in the methods and understanding of historical archaeology as a discipline. Each contribution to Deetz’s original idea has illustrated the variety of ways in which scholars can interpret our past, and has evolved our opinions of Georgian North American material culture to consider a wider range of possibilities. Leone’s idea of dominant ideologies does have some merit in the sense that the impressive houses and landscapes could serve to comfort the elite in their hypocritical position at the top of the social ladder. Leone, however, did not mention the ‘Georgian order’ in his more recent publications; this suggests that even he understands the importance of social relations in interpreting material culture and landscapes over the culturalist opposite that could be misleading. The Georgian worldview is again being redeveloped to suit the new approaches to the historical archaeology of eighteenth-century North America.


Courtney, P. (1996) ‘In Small Things Forgotten: The Georgian World View, Material Culture and the Consumer Revolution’, Rural History 7: 87-95

Deetz, J. (1996) In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life, New York: Anchor Books

Deetz, J. (2003) ‘Material Culture and the Worldview in Colonial Anglo-America’, in Leone, M.P. and Potter, P.B (eds.) The Recovery of Meaning: Historical Archaeology in the Eastern sUnited States, New York: Percheron Press: 219-233

Gable, C. (2004) Italian and Cultural History: The Secrets of Palladio's Villas, (accessed 03/05/2012)

Glassie, H. (1999) Material Culture, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press

Hall, M. (2000) Archaeology and the Modern World: Colonial Transcripts in South Africa and the Chesapeake, New York: Routledge

Hall, M. (1992) ‘Small Things and the Mobile, Conflictual Fusion of Power, Fear, and Desire’, in Yentsch A. E. and Beaudry M.C. (eds.) The Art and Mystery of Historical Archaeology, Essays in Honor of James Deetz, Ann Arbor: CRC Press: 373-399

Hicks, D. (2005) ‘‘Places for thinking’ from Annapolis to Bristol: situations and symmetries in world historical archaeologies’, World Archaeology 37: 373-391

Issac, R. (1992) ‘Imagination and Material Culture: The Enlightenment on a Mid- 18th-Century Virginia Plantation’, in Yentsch A. E. and Beaudry M.C. (eds.) The Art and Mystery of Historical Archaeology, Essays in Honor of James Deetz, Ann Arbor: CRC Press: 401-423

Kelso, W.M. (1992) ‘Big Things Remembered: Anglo-Virginian Houses, Armorial Devices and the Impact of Common Sense’, in Yentsch A. E. and Beaudry M.C. (eds.) The Art and Mystery of Historical Archaeology, Essays in Honor of James Deetz, Ann Arbor: CRC Press: 127-145

Leone, M.P. and Potter, P.B. (2003) ‘The Archaeology of the Georgian Worldview and the 18th-Century Beginnings of Modernity’, in Leone, M.P. and Potter, P.B (eds.) The Recovery of Meaning: Historical Archaeology in the Eastern United States, New York: Percheron Press: 211-216

Leone, M.P. (2008) ‘The Archaeology of liberty in an American capital: Excavations in Annapolis,’ in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal 18: 101-115.

Leone, M.P. (2003) ‘The Georgian Order as the Order of Merchant Capitalism in Annapolis, Maryland’, in Leone, M.P. and Potter, P.B (eds.) The Recovery of Meaning: Historical Archaeology in the Eastern United States, New York: Percheron Press: 235-259

Leone, M.P. (1984) ‘Interpreting ideology in historical archaeology: using the rules of perspective in the William Paca garden in Annapolis, Maryland’, in Miller, D and Tilley, C (eds.) Ideology, Power, and Prehistory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 25-35

Leone, M., Kryder-Reid, E., Bailey-Goldschmidt, J. (1992) ‘The Rationalization of Sound in Mid- 18th-Century Annapolis, Maryland’, in Yentsch A. E. and Beaudry M.C. (eds.) The Art and Mystery of Historical Archaeology, Essays in Honor of James Deetz, Ann Arbor: CRC Press: 229-245

Orser, C.E. (1998) ‘Epilogue: From Georgian Order to Social Relations at Annapolis and Beyond’ in Shackal, P.A., Mullins, P.R. and Warner M.S. (eds.) Annapolis Pasts: Historical Archaeology in in Annapolis, Maryland, Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press: 307-324.

Pennell, S. (2009) ‘Mundane materiality, or, should small things still be forgotten?: material culture, micro-histories and the problem of scale’, in Harvey, K. (ed.) (2009) History and Material Culture: A student’s guide to approaching alternative sources, Oxon: Routledge: 173-191

Williamson, T. (1999) ‘Gardens, Legitimation and Resistence’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3: 37-52


Figure 1: An example of a vernacular house (Deetz, 1996: 66)

Figure 2: A Georgian house (Deetz, 1996: 66)

Figure 3: bilaterally symmetrical floor plan arrangements (Glassie, 1999: 315)


Figure 4: William Paca’s garden (Leone, 1984 :30)

Figure 5: A South African house built in the eighteenth-century (Hall, 1992 :379)

Figure 6: Westover House, Virginia

Figure 7: Chinese porcelain from the DEITC HQ, Cape Town (Hall, 1992: 387)

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