Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies

Overview

In Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies, Michael Olmert takes us into the eighteenth-century backyards of colonial America. He explores the many small outbuildings that can still be found at obscure rural farmsteads throughout the Tidewater and greater mid-Atlantic, in towns like Williamsburg and Annapolis, and at elite plantations such as Mount Vernon and Monticello.

These structures were designed to support the performance of a single task: cooking food; washing clothes; smoking...

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Overview

In Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies, Michael Olmert takes us into the eighteenth-century backyards of colonial America. He explores the many small outbuildings that can still be found at obscure rural farmsteads throughout the Tidewater and greater mid-Atlantic, in towns like Williamsburg and Annapolis, and at elite plantations such as Mount Vernon and Monticello.

These structures were designed to support the performance of a single task: cooking food; washing clothes; smoking meat; storing last winter's ice; or keeping milk, cheese, and cream fresh. Privies and small offices are also addressed, as is the dovecote, in which doves were raised for their eggs, squab meat, feathers, and fertilizer. Often, these little buildings were clustered in such a way as to resemble a small village, knit together by similar design details and building materials: they were all constructed in weatherboards or in brick, for instance, or were arranged in a single file or positioned at the four corners of the yard.

In this appealing book, featuring nearly a hundred crisp black-and-white photographs, Olmert explains how these well-made buildings actually functioned. He is riveted by the history of outbuildings: their architecture, patterns of use, folklore, and even their literary presence. In two appendixes he also considers octagonal and hexagonal structures, which had special significance, both doctrinal and cultural, in early America.

Archaeologists and historians still have many questions about the design and function of outbuildings-questions that are often difficult to answer because of the ephemeral nature of these structures; they were not documented-any more than laundry rooms and storage units inspire rhapsodies today. Olmert's book, deeply grounded in scholarship, eminently readable, and profusely illustrated, takes these buildings seriously and gives them the attention they deserve.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies, Michael Olmert takes readers into the backyards behind the great houses of the Chesapeake. In these spaces behind the homes of the wealthy, Olmert illuminates a world where the sometimes dirty work of food preparation, the clean work of dairying and laundering, and the necessary work of the necessary was carried out. The book's main argument is that we should take these buildings seriously, because they can teach us about the society that built them. Olmert lays out the reasons convincingly, and with great skill, and in the process provides a valuable service to general readers and scholars alike. Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies is beautiful, thoroughly researched, and written with grace and humor."—Matthew H. Jennings, H-South, H-Net Reviews, February 2010

"Michael Olmert offers a wonderfully conversational introduction to the myriad structures that supported the drudgery and business of eighteenth-century domestic life. Olmert marshals the evidence of archaeology, poetry, narrative, art , and most importantly the buildings themselves in an account that explores an intimate world of work in the service of the 'big' house. If the clustered gangs of outbuildings thronged around the dwellings of the Chesapeake countryside have sparked your curiosity, Olmert's book is an excellent introduction to their social, cultural, and architectural histories."—Bernard L. Herman, author of Town House: Architecture and Material Life in the Early American City, 1780–1830

"How were the glamorous seven-course meals cooked? The clothes washed? Or, where did you go to the potty? The backyard had more activity than the actual house. Elegantly written with great insight and accompanied by many photographs and drawings, Michael Olmert's book illuminates how the grand houses and also the more middling actually functioned in the Mid-Atlantic region. This book is essential for any serious student of Colonial America."—Richard Guy Wilson, author of Buildings of Virginia

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801447914
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 4/10/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 985,013
  • Product dimensions: 7.20 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

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