Vivi Lena Andersen – University of Copenhagen

Between cobbles, bunions, shoe last and fashion

An appropriation and adaption analysis of footwear from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Absolutism from archaeological excavations in Copenhagen

A joint PhD project between the Museum of Copenhagen and the Saxo-Institute
by Vivi Lena Andersen

The Museum of Copenhagen has in the past ten years carried out a number of major archaeological investigations that have created an empirical basis for studies of how everyday life in Copenhagen has developed. The favorable preservation conditions for organic material have contributed substantially to the museum´s footwear collection, now consisting of approx. 6500 shoes and shoe parts, made of leather, wood and textile.
Footwear was probably invented to protect feet against natural and climatic conditions, but it also became an indicator of how we want to be seen in the eyes of others. The local, climatic and physical conditions have affected the way footwear was designed, while craftsmanship, technological changes and fashions have opened new possibilities and preferences.

The study of this collection will provide insight into a wide range of the population of Copenhagen in a period when the city went from being a small commercial settlement to be the capital of the realm with a wide international network and outlook. The project aims to investigate the aspects that have affected the Copenhagener's footwear in the period 1200-1700's, and explore the relationship between craftsmanship, functional and fashion-related aspects of the way the footwear has been designed and worn.
The project is expected to contribute with new knowledge about Copenhagener's living conditions and self-perception during the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Absolutism. The relationship between footwear, the city and humans (as producer or consumer) forms the focal point of the project, where footwear is seen as a product of appropriation (borrowed elements in the creation of new) and adaptation.

The description of the archaeologically found footwear includes recording and analyzing aspects related to material type, technique, dating, wear, the owner's gender, age, height, social class, gait, foot defects, crafts, production, repair, recycling, fashion, import, trade and archaeological context, and comparative collections in Denmark and abroad will be studied. It will within the framework of historical archeology, including written and iconographic sources as well as the preserved, non-archaeological footwear, be elucidated how the different source materials have interacted in the society and which picture emerges of the footwear and the people who wore it. Costume studies are also included since the footwear is interpreted as an integral part of the dress and a person's self-promotion. The archaeological approach to the study of footwear is integrated in broader cultural issues regarding the relationship between locally determined needs and the elements of identity.

In the analysis of the choice and need-dichotomy there is an interesting approach in the theories of appropriation and adaption within material culture studies as well as fashion theory, where the local conditions, the formation processes and the international outlook are explored. The majority of the footwear in this project has been found in a refuse context. It is therefore relevant to incorporate the philosophy of garbage archaeology, which is the scientific study of waste and the manner in which it reflects people´s lifestyle. Waste is a valuable source in the research of everyday life and diversity, and it accords with the historical- and post medieval archaeological thought of being the voice for the lower levels of society which are only sparsely represented in other sources to the past.