Archives for posts with tag: architecture

sam schulman points me to an interesting article in the tls (thanks, sam!), Querns and curtains, which is a review of a couple of books about the house and home. one of them is The Making of Home: The 500-year story of how our houses became homes by judith flanders.

here’s the cool bit [my bolding]:

“France and Britain stood on two sides of a divide that Flanders identifies between the ‘home’ countries and ‘house’ countries. In the ‘house’ countries – where Romance or Slavic languages are spoken – there is no linguistic distinction between house and home. ‘When an Italian goes home he *sta andando a casa*, goes to the house’. To speakers of the languages of north-western Europe, home and house are ‘related but distinct things': *Heim* and *Haus* in German or *koti* and *talo* in Finnish. Flanders convincingly suggests that this linguistic separation of house and home went along with a different ideal of ‘homeness’. The focal point was not the wider community but the individual household, which was increasingly founded on privacy. Curtains are a case in point. They make possible the kind of cosiness – the Danish word is *hygge* – that can only be found inside ‘when set against a real or metaphorical cold world outside’. Flanders writes that the implications of the northern European version of ‘home’ went far beyond the cultural. Patterns of late marriage in these countries produced generations of couples who needed ‘to equip new houses’ and had ‘the cash to do so’. It is Flanders’s thesis that a focus on a private ‘home’ equipped with new desirable consumer goods was one of the factors that made industrialization happen earlier in Britain than elsewhere. The ideal home was an insatiable creature, constantly generating new appetites for consumer goods, such as sash windows, carpets, cookstoves; and later for gas light and newfangled raisin-pitters and apple-corers.”

sounds like the dividing line between ‘house’ and ‘home’ societies in europe is more or less the hajnal line! — with france outside the hajnal line in this instance. (is there really no word for ‘home’ in french?)

consulting my (shorter) oed, i find that the words house and home both go back to at least old english, i.e. sometime before 1149 (and both are also related to similar words in other germanic languages obviously), but that the word home really took on the primary meaning that we use today in middle english or sometime between 1150 and 1349 when its other usage (“a collection of dwellings”) was dropped:

house [f. Gmc: ult origin unkn.] A n. Pl. houses. 1 A building for human habitation, a dwelling, a home; spec. a self-contained unit having a ground floor and one or more upper storeys (as opp. to a bungalow, flat, etc.). OE.

A n. †1 A collection of dwellings; a village, a town. OE-ME. 2 The place where one lives permanently, esp. as a member of a family or household; a fixed place of residence. Freq. without article or possessive, esp. as representing the centre of family life. OE.

i’ve been arguing for a while now that the foundation of anglo-saxon society in early medieval england was the extended family or kindred and not the individual and his nuclear family like today. (this is not my idea — i’ve picked it up from various historians.) i’ve also argued that the shift from the kindred to the nuclear family in medieval england and elsewhere in my northwestern “core” europe occurred sometime between ca. 1000 and 1200 — roughly speaking (prolly slightly later in northern scandinavia). for example, it wasn’t until the eleventh century in england that a feud could be carried out by a man’s fellow guild members (i.e. people not necessarily related to him) rather than his kindred (see here) — this, i think, indicates that the importance of the kindred was dying away at that point in time. for more on all this see my previous posts: kinship in anglo-saxon society, kinship in anglo-saxon society ii, and the importance of the kindred in anglo-saxon society.

the shift in the meaning of the word home sometime between 1150 and 1349 to (only) the way we use it today is, i think, another indicator of the rising importance of the nuclear family right around this time (or just a bit before, perhaps, with a slight delay in the language until it caught up with the reality on the ground). from the article again: “The focal point was not the wider community but the individual household….” the “wider community” had, of course, largely been extended family and kindred members in the early medieval period; by the high and late middle ages, the nuclear family in the individual household was what was important — one’s “home” (as we know it), no longer one’s “home” (a “collection of dwellings”…belonging to the extended family?). and, of course, i think that this shift from the extended to the nuclear family in nw europe happened thanks to The Outbreeding Project in medieval europe, yada, yada, yada….

this shift in the language parallel to the one in the family type isn’t the only one that appears to be connected to The Outbreeding Project. the terms that we use to describe various family members — especially cousins and aunts and uncles — also changed in nw europe a couple of hundred years after The Outbreeding Project got going in europe — right around the 1100s in germany, in fact. interesting, huh? (and did i ever mention that there was a similar linguistic shift in ancient greece in the fifth to the third centuries bc?)

something else that i found interesting in the review article, but only because i have a quirky interest in the layout of houses, both inside and in relation to other houses:

“Another common feature of these roundhouses, as the archaeologist Francis Pryor notes in ‘Home: A time traveller’s tales from Britain’s history’, his account of family life in Britain before the Romans, was that the doorway almost always faced south-east – as many as 95 per cent of the ones we know of. The most likely reason was solar orientation: ‘to catch the light of the rising sun’, as Pryor puts it. In his view, this was not primarily a practical move – in the Fens, where there are bitter north-easterly winds, a west-facing door might have offered more protection – though it ‘may have helped’ with getting up in the morning. Rather, these sun-catching doorways were a ‘symbol’ of the importance of the sun in structuring daily life. Home, in Iron Age Britain, was a place that looked outwards towards the sun.

“Fast-forward to the towns of Britain in the nineteenth century and people no longer had strong views about the placement of doorways. A front door faced not the sun but the street, and therefore varied depending on which side of the street you occupied. What mattered more than which way the door faced was that a home should have curtains. By the mid-nineteenth century, as Judith Flanders explains in her magnificent overview ‘The Making of Home’, to live without curtains ‘seemed as odd to the British as living without corridors’ (another thing that homes had once not felt the lack of). Curtains have many functions – insulation, decoration and prestige. But their primary purpose is to protect the home from what is happening outside, ‘even light’, as Flanders writes. Curtains epitomize a view of ‘home’ directly opposed to the south-easterly doorways of prehistoric Britain. Our modern version of home is not a place that looks towards the sun, but inwards towards itself. Curtains enable the occupants of a house to feel that ‘what is happening outside is far away’.”

i’ve brought up the orientation of houses in england (and nw europe) before. what i’ve always thought was significant is that anglo/nw european houses face onto the street or a common area (the “green”), not only for a functional reason (although it’s no doubt useful to have the entrance to your house face the road), but because all the unrelated nuclear families in these homes feel that they are a part of the broader community (except, of course, for that one crazy guy livin’ on his own down the street). this is in contrast, for instance, to courtyard houses that you find in many areas of the world where inbreeding (cousin marriage) still occurs and where it’s the extended family that’s important, not the neighborhood.

flanders’ observations on curtains offering some privacy and a way for the nuclear family to focus in on itself (particularly when the blinds are closed?) are interesting, though. maybe i’ll have to read the book! (^_^)

previously: big summary post on the hajnal line and the importance of the kindred in anglo-saxon society and kinship in anglo-saxon society and kinship in anglo-saxon society ii and there’s no place like home and kandahar vs. levittown.

(note: comments do not require an email. curtains!)

the walled family compounds of kandahar


…vs. the invisible boundaries of levittown


previously: there’s no place like home

(note: comments do not require an email. alex.)

the yąnomamö of brazil/venezuela:

these guys are the un-semai — from steven pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature:

“Helena Valero, a woman who had been abducted by the Yanomamö in the Venezuelan rain forest in the 1930s, recounted one of their raids:

“‘Meanwhile from all sides the women continued to arrive with their children, whom the other Karawetari had captured…. Then the men began to kill the children; little ones, bigger ones, they killed many of them. They tried to run away, but they caught them, and threw them on the ground, and stuck them with bows, which went through their bodies and rooted them to the ground. Taking the smallest by the feet, they beat them against the trees and rocks. . . . All the women wept.'”

yikes. =/

according to pinker, the annual yąnomamö death rate due to warfare was something like 275 out of 100,000 in the mid-twentieth century. definitely higher numbers than the semai:

pinker - war deaths per 100,000 people per year - the yanomamo

warfare here, of course, refers to battles between villages (perhaps, too, between alliances of villages — i don’t know — haven’t finished reading the book yet!). and because there is so much violence between villages, the yąnomamö have to be wary [pg. 131]:

“Daily activities begin early in a Yanomamo village. One can hear people chatting lazily and children crying long before it is light enough to see. Most people are awakened by the cold and build up the fire just before daybreak….

“The entrances are all covered with dry brush so that any attempt to get through them is heard all over the village. There is always a procession of people leaving the village at dawn to relieve themselves in the nearby garden, and the noise they make going in and out of the village usually awakens the others….

This is also the time of day when raiders strike, so people must be cautious when they leave the village at dawn. If there is some reason to suspect raiders, they do not leave the confines of the upright log palisade that surrounds the village. They wait instead until full light and leave the village in armed groups.”

would it surprise you to learn that the yąnomamö are pretty closely inbred? from pinker:

“Among the Yanomamo … two individuals picked at random from a village are related almost as closely as first cousins, and people who consider each other relatives are related, on average, even more closely.”

the yąnomamö prefer to marry their first cousins — specifically their cross cousins, outside their patrilineage, but within the village. from chagnon [pgs. 141, 144, & 150]:

“[M]en [can] marry only those women they put into the kinship category *suaboya.* By collecting genealogies that showed who was related to whom in specific ways, it was then possible to specify any man’s ‘nonmarriageable’ and ‘marriageable’ female kin. As it turned out, men could marry only those women who fell into the category of kin we would call ‘cross-cousin.’ These are, from a man’s point of view, the daughters of his mother’s brother or the daughters of his father’s sister…. The rule, therefore, is that the Yanomamo marry bilateral cross-cousins. Bilateral means ‘both sides,’ that is, father’s *and* mother’s side of the family. From their vantage, therefore, one of their marriage rules is, ‘Men should marry their *suaboya*.’ In a very real sense, this is like saying ‘We marry our wives,’ for men call their wives and their female cross-cousins suaboya. Thus, to ask, ‘Whom do you marry?’ seems somewhat peculiar to them. They marry their wives, as real people are supposed to do….

“The general Yanomamo rule about marriage, insofar as it can be phrased in terms of descent rule, is simply that everyone *must* marry outside of his or her own patrilineal group. The Yanomamo patrilineage is, therefore, an exogamic group: All members must marry outside of it into a different patrilineage…. In Yanomamo society, one’s cross-cousins will always belong to a different lineage but parallel cousins will belong to your own lineage….

“Each person belongs to the patrilineage of his or her father, and all men marry women who are *simultaneously* their Father’s Sister’s Daughters (hereafter FZD) *and* their Mother’s Brother’s Daughters (hereafter MBD). …

“The ‘ideal’ model presented above (Figure 4.8) represents each man as marrying a woman who is simultaneously his MBD and FZD. In actual practice, this rarely happens, largely because of physiological and demographic reasons…. What *does* happen is that men marry women who are sometimes FZDs or sometimes MBDs.

how long have they been mating like this? who knows?

read more about yąnomamö marriage patterns here.

now, excuse me a sec while i indulge my other pet interest: the types of houses that different peoples construct for themselves (and their families). we saw before that quite a few cousin marrying populations live in homes that exclude outsiders (courtyard houses, for instance), while non-cousin marrying populations like the english live in homes that sorta invite outsiders in (like around the village green).

what sort of houses do you think the yąnomamö live in (traditionally anyway — hint: a shabono — more cool pics via google)?:


from chagnon again [pg. 131]:

Kaobawa’s village is oval shaped. His house is located among those of his agnatic kinsmen, that is, men related through males ties. The occupy a continuous arc along one side of the village. Each builds his own section of the village, but in such a way that the roofs coincided and could be attached by simply extending the thatching. When completed, the village looked like a continuous, oval-shaped lean-to because of the way in which the roofs of the discrete houses were attached. Each house, however, is owned by the family that built it. Shararaiwa, Kaobawa’s youngest brother, helped build Kaobaw’s house and shares it with him. He also shares Koamashima, Kaobawa’s younger wife….”

apparently, there can be several shabonos in one village. the way that the extended family/clan’s houses all open on to the family’s central yard, and the houses’ backs face out to the world in a very uninviting way to strangers, reminds me of other inbred groups’ clan houses — like the hakka walled villages of southern china. those two — the shabonos and the hakka walled villages — are both even defensive in nature — the shabonos have a pallisade around them.

h/t henry harpending. (^_^)

previously: when did you stop beating your wife? and the semai and there’s no place like home

(note: comments do not require an email. yąnomamö kid.)

changing gears for a sec (kinda): peoples who inbreed regularly build different types of houses than people who do not (or maybe that should be the other way around). particularly — or maybe mostly — those that live in urban areas.

if you’re a bedouin and your whole clan lives in tents and travels together and marries one another, the following prolly doesn’t apply since you don’t normally encounter other, unrelated people on a daily basis, so there’s no need to wall yourself in. however, if you and your clan are inbreeders and you live in a place where you’re likely to encounter unrelated people quite often, your response will prolly be to build…

…a courtyard house:

“A courtyard house is a type of house — often a large house — where the main part of the building is disposed around a central courtyard. The main rooms of a courtyard houses often open onto the courtyard, and the exterior walls may be windowless and/or semi-fortified and/or surrounded by a moat…. Courtyard houses consisting of multiple separate residences have been built in many regions and eras, including the earliest Chinese dynasties and the Inca period…. In Ancient Roman architecture courtyard houses were built around an atrium. Courtyard houses are also common in Islamic architecture. Courtyard houses are also a form of dwelling built in the British Isles late in the Iron Age.”

lots o’ inbreeders on that list.

the point of the courtyard house — well, there are many reasons to build a courtyard house, but the main point anyway — is to keep out unrelated folks. you don’t even want them looking in to your domain in any way. no front yard. no backyard — definitely not one that is barely separated from your neighbor’s backyard! — your neighbor with whom you share hardly any genetic ties whatsoever! and, like the wikipedia description says, maybe not even any outside windows. if you’ve ever been to the greek isles, you know what they’re talking about. in islamic countries, part of the point of the courtyard house is so that women may observe purdah.

here’s a model of a chinese siheyuan (courtyard house):

and here’s the sort of thing that will greet you in the front (this is from a rather wealthy home, according to wikipedia):

a wall with a door in it. it’s a very nice looking wall with a door in it, but it’s still a wall with a door in it.

here’s a machiya house in japan (kyoto) — the front as passersby would encounter it:

and the family’s courtyard:

here’s the front entranceway to a courtyard house in india:

interior of traditional courtyard house in iran (it was under renovation, apparently):

traditional courtyard home in turkey:

and one in morocco (this one’s a vacation rental, so next time you’re in marrakesh…!):

these are all really different from, say, a typical swiss village where all the houses have large windows — and barely any boundaries separating them from neighboring houses at all!:

courtyard houses are also very different from traditional houses found in english villages which typically are oriented toward a common village green:

and they’re very unlike these houses which, again, have large windows, are oriented out towards the street, and have no boudaries between the front lawns (there might be fences between the backyards — and maybe a particularly tall one or two depending on how the neighbors get along (~_^) ):

the ultimate in insular clan housing, tho, must be the hakka walled villages of southern china. entire clans — hundreds of families — could literally hole up in one of these! again, there’s a central courtyard with apartments around the perimeter for all the nuclear families that made up the clan — and not many windows facing outwards — maybe only a few high up:

the interior of one:

further reading (one of these days i might even read these myself!): Courtyard housing: past, present and future and Riyadh’s Vanishing Courtyard Houses. for more on the chinese siheyuan, see here.

update: see also damascus courtyard house

(note: comments do not require an email. hbd chick’s preferred house.)


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