Dr Serena Dyer

Job: Early Career Academic Fellow

Faculty: Arts, Design and Humanities

School/department: School of Humanities

Address: De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, LE1 9BH

T: N/A

E: serena.dyer@dmu.ac.uk

W: dmu.ac.uk

 

Personal profile

Dr Serena Dyer is a historian of women, consumption, and material culture in the eighteenth century. She was previously Lecturer in History at the University of Hertfordshire, and has also taught at the University of Warwick, Middlesex University, and University of York. Serena also has a background in museums, and was Curator of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture and Assistant Curator at the National Portrait Gallery.

Serena's research focuses on material literacy and consumer knowledge in the eighteenth century. She was awarded her ESRC funded PhD at the University of Warwick in 2016. Her first book, Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the Eighteenth Century, for which she has received funding from the Paul Mellon Centre, is under contract with Bloomsbury. She has also published papers in History Compass, the Journal of Urban History, and Nineteenth Century Gender Studies, as well as numerous edited collections. Her new research project focusses on nationhood and material culture, and examines how material objects were used to mediate new ideas of Britishness following the 1707 Acts of Union.

Research group affiliations

Institute of History, Institute of Art and Design

Publications and outputs 

  • Barbara Johnson's Album: Material Literacy and Consumer Practice, 1746‐1823
    Barbara Johnson's Album: Material Literacy and Consumer Practice, 1746‐1823 Dyer, Serena This article examines Barbara Johnson's Album, a prolific record of the dress consumption of a vicar's daughter. The album contains over a hundred samples of dress fabrics acquired by Johnson between the ages of eight and eighty‐five. Interrogated alongside the Johnson family correspondence and didactic tools produced by Johnson's mother, this article argues that the album acted as a material form of account book, conceived as a moral, financial and material regulator. Considered within the emerging framework of material knowledge and consumer skill, the album provides important evidence of how consumers maintained and developed their material literacy. The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Shopping and the Senses: Retail, Browsing and Consumption in Eighteenth-Century England
    Shopping and the Senses: Retail, Browsing and Consumption in Eighteenth-Century England Dyer, Serena Interest in the senses has blossomed over the last decade, leading to numerous explorations of touch, smell, sound, taste and sight throughout history. Increasingly, historians are considering how this sensory methodology can enrich other fields of historical study. This article explores the potential for sensory history to open new avenues of thought in the field of urban consumption history. Focusing on the period of the so called ‘consumer revolution’, this article promotes a reassessment of shopping in 18th‐century English towns. This intersection of consumption history and sensory history encourages us to rethink numerous aspects of the process of shopping in the 18th century, including browsing, gender, urban space and agency. This article begins by assessing the current state of scholarship in these two branches of historical enquiry, before considering how their juncture impacts research moving forward. The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Masculinities, Wallpaper, and Crafting Domestic Space within the University, 1795-1914
    Masculinities, Wallpaper, and Crafting Domestic Space within the University, 1795-1914 Dyer, Serena During routine renovations, a ‘wallpaper sandwich’ - made up of twelve preserved layers of wallpaper - was removed from the wall of a student dorm room at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Carefully separated and conserved, these wallpapers provide a glimpse into the decorative domestic surroundings inhabited by students over 180 years, from the late eighteenth century onwards. Able to mimic or defy the aesthetic conventions of their parents’ homes, students were given relative freedom to decorate their college rooms as they wished. As such, these rooms represent a domestic haven within the institutional confines of the Cambridge college. This was a space in which students could explore and express their own ideas of domestic comfort and, for many students, create their first home. Using a selection of the wallpaper fragments as a framework, this article explores the decorative choices made by the young men who were students at Peterhouse in the nineteenth century, and contextualises them within a broader narrative of masculine material culture and domestic consumption. This article draws from the ‘wallpaper sandwich’, college photographic archives, and records of student experience. It argues that the domestic autonomy granted to the students who inhabited these rooms allowed them to craft a domestic interior within the college on their own terms. The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the URI link.
  • Training the Child Consumer: Play, Toys, and Learning to Shop in Eighteenth-Century Britain
    Training the Child Consumer: Play, Toys, and Learning to Shop in Eighteenth-Century Britain Dyer, Serena As consumers-in-training, active engagement with financial and material tasks were key didactic tools for eighteenth-century children. The expanding and tempting world of goods, which rose to ever-increasing prominence in the eighteenth century, brought with it a threat of moral decay, material decadence, and financial ruin. The importance of arming children in order to resist the allure of the commercial world was an issue of great importance to pedagogical writers such as Locke and Edgeworth, and was recognised as an appealing selling point by publishers such as Newbery and the Fullers. The didactic materials produced to promote the training of children to be economically literate, rational consumers were utilised with varying degrees of success. However, the material training of children to understand where things came from and how they were made was prevalent both in pedagogical literature, and in the practice of children making clothing for their dolls. This self-conscious development of children’s knowledge of the material world and consumer goods through unmaking and making aimed to promote restraint, and an understanding of the value of things.
  • Fashioning Consumers: Ackermann’s Repository of Arts and the Cultivation of the Female Consumer
    Fashioning Consumers: Ackermann’s Repository of Arts and the Cultivation of the Female Consumer Dyer, Serena Serena Dyer argues that the Anglo-German Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions, and Politics (1809–29) provides evidence of a decisive and conscious acknowledgement of the power of print to promote commerce and to establish the figure of the female consumer. In part through the fashion plate, periodicals were an indispensable tool for female readers looking to hone their economic skills and make spending decisions as responsible British subjects. Although it had wide interests, the Repository stands out for its patriotic promotion of British manufacture, prominently promoted through a series of woodcuts celebrating British manufacture and industry that framed actual fabric samples. Instead of simply encouraging a blind, novelty-based desire for the latest items, women’s periodicals such as the Repository acted to provide women with market knowledge, and to keep them commercially active. The women’s periodical aimed to mould women into urbane, economically dynamic, market-aware, discerning, and knowledgeable consumers.

Research interests/expertise

Material Culture, Dress History, Consumption, Shopping, Retail, Nationhood and Britishness, Women's History

Areas of teaching

Fashion History, Material Culture, Women's History, History of Consumption

Qualifications

PhD: History, University of Warwick, 2012-2016
MA: Eighteenth Century Studies, University of York, 2011-2012
BA (Hons): History and History of Art, University of York, 2008-2011

Courses taught

Design Cultures

Honours and awards

  • Early Career Fellowship, Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick, 2016.
  • Fellowship of the Humanities Research Centre, University of Warwick, 2014.
  • British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Bursary, 2013.
  • K. G. Ponting Memorial Bursary, 2012.
  • Pasold Research Fund MA Grant, 2012.
  • HERA Fashioning the Early Modern, Early Career Bursary, 2012.
  • Vitae Yorkshire and North East Public Engagement Competition Winner, 2012.

Membership of external committees

Textile History, 2018-Present, Exhibition Reviews Editor.
William Morris Society, 2017-2018, Trustee.
British Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 2016-2017, Fine Art Reviews Editor, Criticks.
Association of Art Historians Postgraduate and Early Career Committee, 2013-2015, Treasurer.

Membership of professional associations and societies

Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, 2017-Present.

Projects

Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the Eighteenth Century
Structured around the material archives left by four genteel women, my first monograph (under contract with Bloomsbury), Material Lives, reveals the strategies employed by consumers to manage and express their lives through material culture. The volume focuses on four material biographies: Barbara Johnson’s album of fabric samples, Ann Frankland Lewis’s ‘dress of the year’ watercolours, Laetitia Powell’s doll-sized versions of her own garments, and Sabine Winn’s adorned prints. Approached as forms of life-writing, the material narratives constructed by these women reveal the gendered material strategies used to negotiate and record their interactions with the increasingly sophisticated world of goods. These women engaged with the material culture of making as a means of recording and navigating their lives, articulating their own biographical narratives through material ego-documents.


Making Britannia: British Nationhood, Consumption, and Material Culture, 1707-1837
Making Britannia is the first historical project to tackle how the concept of British nationhood was constructed and commercialised through material goods, during the century following the Acts of Union of 1707. Materiality plays a central role in composing national identity through everyday practices, whether via teapots, textiles, cutlery or ceramics. While historical narratives of nation-making have focused on the political, religious, and military forging of Britishness, this project explores how Britain’s intersecting industrial and commercial transformations offered opportunities for manufacturers and retailers to commoditise nationhood through material objects. Focusing on the iconographical use of Britannia as a figurehead of nationhood, this project interrogates how local, regional, national, and global notions of British patriotism were constructed into a material rhetoric. It traces goods through stages of making, selling, and owning, and examines the multiplicity of ways in which producers, retailers, and consumers attached notions of nationalism to material goods.

Externally funded research grants information

- Patterns of British Manufacture: Nationhood and Textiles in Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, 1809-1829, Pasold Research Fund Research Activity Grant, 2018-2019, £500, PI.
- Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the Eighteenth Century, Postdoctoral Fellowship, Paul Mellon Centre, £8000, 2018-2019, PI.
- Trained to Consume: Dress and the Female Consumer, 1720-1820, British Federation of Women Graduates, Marjorie Shaw Scholarship, £2,000, 2015-2016 PI.
- Trained to Consume: Dress and the Female Consumer, 1720-1820, ESRC, PhD Scholarship, £55,000, 2012-2015, PI.

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