Post-medieval suggests an afterthought. It would be preferable to use the historians’ terms, early modern and modern, for after all, this is a period for which the historical sources take over and the contribution of archaeology is reduced. For that reason, where the scope and scale of projects allow it, there would be mutual benefit to working with social and economic historians. Because post-medieval archaeology deals with the recent past, it presents opportunities to capture public interest and hence for community involvement.
Inevitably there is an urgent need for synthetic assessments of the hundreds of projects and grey literature reports which have been, and continue to be, generated through the planning system. Such work would be likely to rebalance the present state of knowledge in many areas of study and give rise to new issues and problems that should be addressed.
Buildings have not figured prominently in previous research frameworks, despite the large numbers of records being made. There is a need for better communication between conservation officers and archaeologists in terms of setting briefs for recording of post-medieval sites and structures. The assessments of them should be presented in the wider context of building development and architectural history, making a more accurate assessment of their significance possible.
The provenance of the timber used in buildings, whether local or imported, is a subject that warrants further research.
Cottages and smaller houses are in need of further study.
Work on farm buildings should attempt to consider how they have been used, and their relationship to the farmstead and wider landholding. The development of the farmstead c.1750-1914, and the way buildings reflect changing agricultural practice, remains an important research topic.
Regionally based studies of bricks and brickwork, like the work of Ryan (1996) for Essex, would assist the analysis of historic structures.
Recording where necessary should be done earlier in the planning process, as a preliminary to applications so that it informs the decisions eventually taken. It should take place prior to any stripping of fixtures and fittings. Recording briefs should provide for monitoring once work has started. They should also be more precise about the drawings required, specifying ground plans with a basic degree of interpretation as a minimum. Special attention should be given to ensure recording where appropriate of the largely unlisted post-1840 building stock, more significant buildings being treated as undesignated heritage assets or given the protection of local listing.
Work in towns would benefit from the existence of urban characterisation surveys. Changes through time in the built environment can reflect developments in the character and economy of towns.
Seaside towns, ports, wharves and structures associated with the marine economy, all need further study.
High streets, in their current depressed condition, are vulnerable to change and redevelopment, and should be monitored for investigation and recording.
Urban excavation should prioritise post-medieval deposits if in good condition: stripping down to earlier deposits is unacceptable in such circumstances. Excavation briefs should make it explicit that post-medieval layers should not be machined off, unless it has been established that they are of little significance. This should be made clear in briefs issued to contractors. Opportunities for environmental sampling of post-medieval deposits should not be neglected, so as to better understand the environment in this period. Well preserved archaeological remains of 18th and 19th century housing are probably rare, and the opportunity to investigate them should be taken, especially if artefact assemblages are also present.
It is at the level of ordinary living standards and material culture that archaeology can best contribute to the study of well documented periods. Artefacts that seem understudied, and which would benefit from regional overviews, are country pottery, clay pipes, and glass. More resources should be put into the study of artefacts which are relatively neglected compared to other periods. Advantage should be taken of specialist knowledge in museums and local societies. From the 19th century, there is the opportunity to trace the success and distribution of branded goods.
The wider landscape requires acknowledgement as the context for post-medieval settlement and industrial development, as well as farm buildings. Conversely, the impact of social and economic change – religion, enclosure, poverty etc – on the landscape should be taken into account. The county surveys of historic landscapes need to be brought to completion and updated where necessary, and integrated into the planning process as valuable tools for their protection.
Research on defences and fortifications tends to be unbalanced in favour of the two world wars, and should take more consideration of the impact of the earlier Civil War, the Anglo-Dutch wars, and Napoleonic wars. The World War II surveys of Essex and the Suffolk coast, whilst requiring further synthesis, need to be extended to other parts of the region. Greater consistency is required in recording World War II structures. The material culture of military sites is an aspect of them on which archaeology can uniquely provide information. Military sites which are being closed down or mothballed should be recommended for recording.