Civilising sucking: the production of ceramic infant feeding devices in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

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Inspired by Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s complaint about the exclusion of the baby bottle from history, this chapter examines the cultural conditions within which mass-produced infant feeding devices came to exist in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Using a material culture approach, this chapter traces an artefact-led route through ceramic infant feeders’ mass-production and private, singularised consumption, posing questions as to how the supply of and demand for new goods may have helped shape shifts in bodily practice. Focusing in particular on blue and white ceramic sucking bottles and pap boats, this chapter enquires into the design of these artefacts - manufactured by many British potteries as vessels for the handfeeding or dry nursing of infants on breastmilk substitutes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - and into the intriguing tension they pose between their distinctive decorative form and potentially dangerous function. Placing the feeders culturally and historically necessitates an investigation of the significant changes in breastfeeding practices in the late eighteenth century within the wider context of the increasing medicalisation of women’s bodies and the contemporaneous discourses on childhood and ‘nature’. During the same period, the technological innovations and shifts in labour practices in the pottery industry, which enabled fine and affordable creamware to be mass-produced, also meant such ceramics could be cheaply decorated to carry popular symbols compatible with the iconography of civilised society by using the new methods of blue and white transfer printing. To those to whom domestic ceramics had become newly accessible, the uses of refined goods such as decorated infant feeders - made to match tea sets - enabled new social behaviours associated with modernity and civility to penetrate the most intimate spaces of the home and family across classes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Perspectives in British Cultural History
EditorsR. Crone
Place of PublicationNewcastle-upon-Tyne
PublisherCambridge Scholars Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9781847181558
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007


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