UCD John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies 
UCD John Hume Institute for Global Irish StudiesUCD Crest


Consuming culture in the early modern household: an archaeology of capitalism in Ireland, 1500-1800

Supervised by: Professor Tadhg O’Keeffe, UCD School of Archaeology

Consuming culture in the early modern household: an archaeology of capitalism in Ireland, 1500-1800Project overview
The project is an archaeological study of the material culture of the early modern Irish household. It will endeavour to locate the culture of consumption within an international context of incipient capitalism. A major focus will be to explore how the dual processes of capitalism and colonialism found expression at the Irish hearth and table through the accoutrements of food consumption and dining.


  • to establish the extent of the surviving artefactual record, collate the evidence of household material from archaeological records and contemporary documentary sources and compile a national database
  • to connect this material to the domestic built-environment
  • to explore how forms of identity such as class, gender, ethnicity or religion or social-topographical setting whether urban or rural determined the consumption of food and its associated material culture within the domestic environment

Key research questions

  • Can we reconstruct household assemblages, house-by-house for particular periods and places in Ireland within this time span?
  • What is the ratio of food associated material culture to other forms (e.g. furnishings or personal possessions) in early modern Irish houses and how does this vary between houses?
  • Can we isolate identity patterns and identity signifiers (of class, religion, ethnicity or gender) in the material culture of food?
  • Can we distinguish between the material and food and dining cultures of ‘native’ and colonial élites?
  • Was food preparation and consumption used to express and facilitate domination, resistance or ‘creolisation’ in the Irish colonial context?
  • Are patterns regarded as hallmarks of modernity elsewhere (e.g. Britain or pre-Independence America) replicated in Ireland?

Although this project is located within the field of historical archaeology, it is fundamentally cross-disciplinary. Documentary sources will provide a significant volume of data and the material evidence will be derived from excavations and museum collections. The initial and ongoing phase of the project is the creation of a database of Irish early modern household assemblages based on a survey of the Excavation Bulletin, museum collections and archival material. Upon completion of this database a number of questions with regards to basic patterns and ratios will be answered. Case study assemblages will then be selected for in depth analysis. The methodological approach will include the collection and scrutiny of empirical archaeological data as well as a theoretically-informed approach to making sense of material culture.