Class, Culture, and Conflict in the Edwardian Book Inscription: A Multimodal Ethnohistorical Approach

in Multimodality

Abstract

This study uses three examples of Edwardian (1901-1914) book inscriptions- a prize inscription, gift inscription, and bookplate-to demonstrate how the adoption of an ethnohistorical approach, in which choices of image, color, typography, and materiality are grounded in archival research, can strengthen multimodal analysis. Furthermore, it argues that, while book inscriptions may seem insignificant markers of ownership, they, in fact, act as a material microcosm of many of the social tensions that existed between class groups in early twentieth-century Britain. The analysis reveals that inscriptions were primarily used to objectify their owners’ economic means and cultural necessities, and assert themselves in a social space, whether to uphold their rank or keep their distance from other groups. These findings demonstrate the importance of embedding hypotheses concerning the function and form of artifacts in concrete historical documents.

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