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The Staircase: Evolution of Design and Use in Elite, Domestic Virginia Architecture 1607-1812

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Author: Holmes, Erin Marie
Advisor: Whittenburg, James P.
Committee Members: Lounsbury, Carl; Pease, Edwin
Issued Date: 5/13/2011
Subjects: Virginia Architecture
Colonial History
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10288/13705
Description: The staircase provides a pivot point for understanding human interactions with and within public and domestic spaces-- they simultaneously act as barriers and conduits to movement while affecting how people react to the space as a whole. The physical impact of a staircase on the people who interact with it should not be underestimated as it influences the way people react to a space and the people within it, as well as their gaits as they walk through it. This study, in contrast, hopes that by focusing on the evolution of the staircase specifically in Virginia, a more comprehensive study of the staircase's greater context may be achieved. The interaction of those inhabiting spaces and how they felt the impact of a staircase will be addressed through considerations of placement and design -- the transition from a staircase as something simply functional to a space for lavish social display could be considered an important step toward an increasingly static society. The connection between the Old and New Worlds is particularly clear when comparing the placement and construction the staircase in the Jacobean Bacon's Castle in Surry, Virginia, which has a separate, enclosed stairwell ascending the back of the elegant brick mansion with eighteenth century examples, such as those at Tuckahoe and Shirley Plantations, and even later examples like Monticello and the Wickham-Valentine House. The goal of exploring the origins, development, and impact of the staircase in Virginia between the founding of Jamestown and the early national period is to produce a tangible link to a past that often seems overwhelmed by dust and decay. It is often difficult to reconcile material culture with social history to produce something that is relatable and evocative, but in a staircase the historian finds the perfect merging of social meaning and tangible form – not just tangible, but touchable. In moving up and down the staircases that remain from this period, we walk in the steps of history -- the stairs force us to change our movement so we do this quite literally -- and can take hold of the very banisters that supported generations before us.
Degree: Bachelors of Arts in History

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