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School of Geography

What does home mean to you?

From Life under Lockdown, Mehetabel Road and Isabella Road, Hackney 2020. Photo by Eithne Nightingale
Remaining family on soon to be demolished Marian Court. © Eithne Nightingale

Is home a building? A neighbourhood, city, or country? The objects that surround you? A sense of security or insecurity, belonging or alienation? As a partnership between Queen Mary and the Museum of the Home, the Centre for Studies of Home (CSH) has pioneered collaborative and cross-disciplinary research on the home over the past ten years. The museum has recently reopened following a major HLF-funded capital development project and features research from CSH in its displays and collections.

Through a £2m research programme funded by AHRC, ESRC, The Leverhulme Trust and Queen Mary, CSH has set the agenda for an expansive understanding of home. Staff at Queen Mary and the museum have worked with 13 PhD students, nine postdoctoral researchers and three artists-in-residence on home and work; home and religion; high-rise homes and gentrification; home, migration and the city; teenage bedrooms; and home histories.

A major new project at CSH on Stay Home Stories (funded by AHRC as part of the UKRI rapid response to COVID-19) explores experiences of home during and after three UK national lockdowns. Led by Alison Blunt, and with a research team at Queen Mary, Birkbeck, and the University of Liverpool, the project is co-creating podcasts, blog posts, short films, an interfaith toolkit, a virtual exhibition, learning resources, and policy briefs. The core partners are the Museum of the Home, National Museums Liverpool, and the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).


An expanded understanding of home

Research at CSH studies home within and beyond the domestic sphere and over a range of co-existing temporal and spatial scales. The team has produced new knowledge about servants and residents of high-rise housing and housing estates. As part of a new research agenda on ‘home-city geographies,’ work at CSH has developed new concepts about the multi-layered temporalities of home and inhabitation on domestic and urban scales.

Domestic practice and personal meanings of home

The researchers have studied the relationships between identity, material culture and domesticity and have developed new methodologies to document personal meanings of home within and beyond the domestic interior, including through ‘home-city biographies.’ The team also works with artists and filmmakers to explore diverse experiences and meanings of home.  

Home in East London

Research-based in East London has focused on home, work and religion, including projects on home and work for Vietnamese Londoners and domestic religious practice and interfaith connections for Christian, Jewish and Muslim residents.

Through collaborative work with Hackney Archives, Eastside Community Heritage, artists and filmmakers, research at CSH has explored new understandings about the relationships between home, neighbourhood, and the city for residents who live close to the museum.

The work of the CSH has stretched the remit of the Museum by interrogating the meaning of home for diverse audiences and challenging how the concept of home is represented in a museum environment.
— Director of the Museum of the Home and CSH co-director, Sonia Solicari

How has the research changed the museum? 

Broadening and deepening MoH’s strategic vision and scope.

According to the museum’s director and CSH co-director, Sonia Solicari, CSH has "helped to transform the museum into an active space for debate and dialogue and a place for new research."

CSH has provided the intellectual framework to support the museum’s move from a focus on English domestic interiors of middle-class Londoners to a socially, spatially and temporally expansive understanding of home.

Research at CSH has shaped MoH’s more inclusive approach to collections and exhibitions by ‘interrogating the meaning of home for diverse audiences and challenging how the concept of home is represented in a museum environment’. CSH has expanded the museum’s research capacity and embedded research as a core activity through joint doctoral supervision, joint publications, and a programme of research events and activities.

Helping the Museum to diversify its exhibitions and collections strategy

Five co-curated exhibitions displaying CSH research have addressed under-represented subjects in the museum:

  • Swept under the carpet? Servants in London households, 1600 to 2000 made domestic service visible in the period rooms for the first time (c.43,000 visitors)
  • The Aylesbury Estate as Home (2016) enabled the museum to address social housing for the first time (c.15,000 visitors)
  • Inside teenage bedrooms (2016) enabled the museum to reflect young people’s cultural practice and stimulated intergenerational dialogue (c.23,200 visitors)
  • Home thoughts: stories of living in London (2017-18) featured films and displays on domestic religious practice for the first time (c.18,600 visitors)
  • Who once lived in my house? (2016) provided a new approach to thinking about home and temporality beyond the chronological history of home presented in the period rooms (c.12,500 visitors)

The exhibitions reached diverse audiences through the co-creation of school learning resources, performances, talks, tours (including for Hackney deafPLUS), youth, community holiday projects, craft-based multi-sensory workshops and private view events. 

One visitor to Swept under the carpet? described the exhibition as ‘inventive and insightful and a great way to bring simple, real stories of “hidden” people alive’. 

Key objects have been acquired for the collections as a result of research at CSH, including the 18th-century print ‘Moll Handy’, depicting a servant embodied by the tools of her trade, and a mezuzah, which marks the threshold of a Jewish home. These objects, together with photographs from research projects on teenage bedrooms and on Vietnamese, Jewish and Muslim homes, are on display in the museum's new permanent Home Gallery.

Strengthening the museum’s engagement with its locality 

‘Home-city-street’ has deepened links with the local area through two indoor street parties, artist-led workshops, a workshop at Hackney Archives, and four short films screened at the museum, Hackney Archives, the kebab shop belonging to one of the participants and the crypt of St Peter’s Church.

The app-based audio walk ‘Home-city stories’ was developed in collaboration with the museum and Hackney Archives and runs from one to the other on and around Kingsland Road. 

‘Home-city stories’ has been positively evaluated with groups of teachers, students, older residents on the digital project ‘Hello Hackney,’ and museum and archive staff from the museum, Hackney Archives and Hackney Museum. 

A long-term Hackney resident said that the audio-walk ‘made me think about where I feel at home.’ The audio-walk made a geography teacher think about ‘different scales and understandings of home: where you are born or where you live? And how areas have changed.’

Recent research at CSH

Four recent books showcase recent research at CSH:

Decorative image of technical equipment

Performance, communication and creative industries

Delivering economic, environmental and social impact across the world.

Schools, institutes and research centres

Centre for Studies of Home

The centre is an international hub for research on the home, past, present and future, for innovative research and learning on the theme of ‘home’. It combines the complementary expertise and interest of Queen Mary and the Museum to develop research, knowledge exchange, dissemination and learning projects. 

Stay Home Stories

'Stay home': rethinking the domestic in the COVID-19 pandemic,' funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation rapid response to COVID-19.

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