Home » Departments and Centres » History and Civilization » Research & Teaching » Seminars » 2nd term 2019-2020 » Material Culture and the World of Things

Material Culture and the World of Things

Research Seminar

Organised by Prof. Giorgio Riello
Registration code: HEC-RS-MATCUL-19
Tuesdays 9:00-10:50, Sala del Torrino

Starts on 7 January 2020
Admin. Assistant: Laura Borgese


Enrolled participants only

Seminar description 

Connections across different areas of the early modern world were created through the exchange of objects, commodities, animals, rarities as well as the language of design and aesthetics. A vast literature on the economic importance of trade has in recent years been extended to include the cultural, social and psychological value of material goods: ‘material culture’ is a shorthand for identifying the study of the meaning and cultural value of objects. This seminar focuses on the relationship between material culture and the creation of global connections. It considers a series of case studies of how artefacts such as silks, cottons and porcelains, rarities such as diamonds, curiosities, and specimens of flora and fauna, all contributed to generate new relations and expand the cultural horizons of early modern people. They created new habits, shaped new collecting and gifting practices, fostered new desires, and produced new bodies of knowledge not just in Europe but across vast parts of Asia, Africa and the Americas.

The seminar is an opportunity to assess the methodological features of what has been termed ‘the material turn in history’. This includes an engagement with object-based methodologies; the distinction between humans and ‘things’; thing-theory and actor-network theory; and the historiographical genesis of material culture studies and their interdisciplinary nature. Whilst the focus of the seminar is on the period before 1800, theoretical readings will consider the wider implications of the use of artefacts in historical research, their relationship with written and manuscript sources, as well as their presentation and visual and literary representations. Visits will be organised to museums in Florence (Bargello; Stibbert, and the Museum of Antropologia ed Etnologia) to examine - through a series of case studies - practices of collecting, the presentation of non-European cultures in European museums, the representation of historical periods, the displaying of artefacts, their conservation and their inclusion in exhibitions. 


7 January: History and Material Culture

  • Leora Auslander, ‘Beyond words’, American Historical Review 110/4 (2006), pp. 1015-44.
  • Craig Clunas, ‘Modernity Global and Local: Consumption and the Rise of the West’, American Historical Review, 104/5 (1999), pp. 1497-1511.
  • Paula Findlen, ‘Early Modern Things: Objects in Motion, 1500-1800’, in Paula Findlen, ed., Early Modern Things: Objects and Their Histories, 1500-1800 (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 1-28.
  • Frank Trentmann, ‘Material Histories of the World: Scales and Dynamics’, in John H. Arnold, Matthew Hilton, and Jan Rüger, eds., History after Hobsbawm: Writing the Past for the Twenty-First Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 200-222.

14 January: Global Visual and Material Culture

  • Marta Ajmar-Wollheim and Luca Molà, ‘The Global Renaissance: Cross-cultural Objects in the Early Modern Period’ and Dana Leibsohn, ‘Response’, in Glenn Adamson, Giorgio Riello and Sarah Teasley, eds., Global Design History (New York: Routledge, 2011), pp. 11-24.
  • Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann and Michael North, ‘Introduction’, and Mia M. Mochizuki, ‘The Movable Center: The Netherlandish Map of Japan’, both in Michael North, ed., Artistic and Cultural Exchanges between Europe and Asia, 1400-1900 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 1-8 and 109-133.
  • Carolyn Dean and Dana Leibsohn, ‘Hybridity and its Discontents: Considering Visual Culture in Colonial Spanish America,’ Colonial Latin American Review, 12/1 (2003), pp. 5-35.
  • David Porter, ‘Monstrous Beauty: Eighteenth-Century Fashion and the Aesthetics of the Chinese Taste’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 35/3 (2002), pp. 395-411.

17 January: Material Culture, Trade and Commodities
Please note that this session will be on a Friday (10:00-12:00). It will be accompanied by a Museum visit

with Anne Gerritsen (Warwick University)

Presentations by Maria Adank and Guido Cioni

  • Maxine Berg, ‘In Pursuit of Luxury: Global Origins of British Consumer Goods’, Past and Present, 182 (2004), pp. 85-142.
  • Anne Gerritsen, “Fragments of a Global Past: Ceramics Manufacture in Song-Yuan-Ming  Jingdezhen,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 52 (2009), pp. 117-152.
  • Kayoko Fujita, “Japan Indianized: The Material Culture of Imported Textiles in Japan, 1550-1850’, in Giorgio Riello and Prasannan Parthasarathi, eds., The Spinning World: A Global History of Cotton Textiles, 1200-1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 181-204
  • Roberto Zaugg, ‘Le crachoir chinois du roi: merchandises globales, culture de cour et vodun dans les royaumes de Hueda et du Dahomey (XVIIe-XIXe siècles’, Annales HSS, 73/1 (2018), pp. 119-159

21 January: Cross-cultural Consumption

Presentations by Pablo Cañón García and Thomas Pritchard

  • Dana Leibsohn, ‘Made in China, Made in Mexico’ in Pierce, Donna and Otsuka, Ronal (eds), At the Crossroads: The Arts of Spanish American and Early Global Trade, 1492-1850 (University of Oklahoma Press, 2012), pp.11-39.
  • Anne E. McCants, ‘Porcelain for the Poor: The Material Culture of Tea and Coffee Consumption in Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam’, in Paula Findlen, ed., Early Modern Things: Objects and Their Histories, 1500-1800 (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 316-341.
  • Marcy Norton, “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics,” American Historical Review, 111/3 (2006), pp. 660-91.
  • Jeremy Prestholdt, ‘On the Global Repercussions of East African Consumerism’, American Historical Review, 109/3 (2004), pp. 755–781.

28 January: Dressing Global Bodies

Presentations by Paul Barrett and Aina Palarea Marimon 

  • Rebecca Earle, ‘Race, Clothing and Identity: Sumptuary Laws in Colonial Spanish America’, in Giorgio Riello and Ulinka Rublack, eds., The Right to Dress: Sumptuary Laws in a Global Perspective, c. 1200-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 325-345.
  • Sarah Fee, ‘The King’s New Clothing: Re-dressing the Body Politic in Madagascar, c.1815–1861’, in Beverly Lemire and Giorgio Riello, eds., Dressing Global Bodies: The Political Power of Dress in World History (London: Routledge, 2020), pp. 153-181
  • Beverly Lemire, Global Trade and the Transformation of Consumer Cultures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 87-136 (Ch. 3. ‘Dressing World Peoples’)
  • Eugenio Menegon, ‘“The habit that hides the monk”: Missionary Fashion Strategies in Late Imperial Chinese Society and Court Culture’, in Nadine Amsler, Andreea Badea, Bernard Heyberger, and Christian Windler, eds., Catholic Missionaries in Early Modern Asia: Patterns of Localization (New York: Routledge, 2020), pp. 30-49.

3 February: Session with MUDEC - Museo delle Culture (Sala dei Levrieri 14:30 - 16:30)

  • Carolina Orsini and Anna Antonini, "Object of Encounter", in MUDEC-Museo delle Culture, Catalogue of Works and Exhibit Guide, pp. 10-31

4 February: Material Culture and the Museum
This session will be accompanied by a talk and Museum visit

  • Glenn Adamson, ‘The Case of the Missing Footstool: Reading the Absent Object’, in Karen Harvey, ed., History and Material Culture (London: Routledge, 2nd ed. 2018), pp. 240-255.
  • Lesley Miller, ‘Museums and the Making of Textile Histories: Past, Present, and Future’, Perspective: actualité en histoire de l’art, 1 (2016), pp. 43-60
  • Jules D. Prown, ‘Mind in Matter: an introduction to material culture theory and method’, Winterthur Portfolio 17/1 (1982), pp. 1-19.
  • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich et at., Tangible Things: Making History Through Things (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 21-70 (ch. 1. ‘Things in Place’).
  • Caterina Chiarelli, "La moda in mostra: il ruolo del museo della moda" in Maria Giuseppina Muzzarelli, Giorgio Riello, Elisa Tosi Brandi, eds., Moda. Storia e Storie (Bruno Mondadori), ch. 20

11 February: Materiality and the Making of Things

Presentations by Matteo Calcagni and Giorgio Ennas

  • Anna Grasskamp, ‘Branches and Bones: The Tranformative Matter of Coral in Ming Dynasty China’, in Michael Bycroft and Sven Dupré, eds. Gems in the Early Modern World: Materials, Knowledge and Global Trade, 1450-1800 (Palgrave, 2019), pp. 119-147.
  • Tim Ingold, ‘Toward an Ecology of Materials’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 41 (2012), pp. 427-442.
  • Pamela Smith, ‘Itineraries of materials and knowledge in the early modern world’, in Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello, eds., The Global Lives of Things: The Material Culture of Connections in the Early Modern World (London: Routledge, 2015), pp. 31-61.
  • Molly A. Warsh, American Baroque: Pearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), pp. 31-77 (Ch. 1: ‘Peals and a Political Ecology of Empire, 1498-1541’)
  • See also The Making and Knowing Project: https://www.makingandknowing.org/

18 February: Gifting, Power and Politics

Presentations by Matthias Ebejer and Daniel Litwin 

  • Margot Finn, ‘Material Turns in British History: 2. Corruption: Imperial Power, Princely Politics and Gifts Gone Rogue’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 29 (2019), pp. 1-25.
  • Meredith Martin, ‘Mirror Reflections: Louis XIV, Phra Narai, and the Material Culture of Kingship’, Art History, 4/3 (2015), pp. 653-667.
  • Harriet Rudolph, ‘Entangled Objects and Hybrid Practices? Material Culture as a New Approach to the History of Diplomacy’, European History Yearbook, issue on Material Culture in Modern Diplomacy from the 15th to the 20th Century, 17 (2016), pp. 1-28.
  • Susan Broomhall, ‘Dishes, Coins and Pipes: The epistemological and emotional power of VOC material culture in Australia, in Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello, eds, The Global Lives of Things: The Material Culture of Connections in the Early Modern World (London: Routledge, 2015), pp. 145-160.

25 February: Collecting and Knowledge

Presentations by Pablo Cañón García and Ana Struillou 

  • Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects (New York: Verso, 1996), pp. 85-105 (Ch. BI. ‘A Marginal System: Collecting’)
  • Bujok Elke, ‘Ethnographica in early modern Kunstkammern and their Perception’, Journal of the History of Collections, 21/1 (2009), pp. 17-32.
  • Neil Safier, ‘Masked Observers and Mark Collectors: Entangled Visions from the Eighteenth-Century Amazon’, Colonial Latin American Review, 26/1 (2017), pp. 104-130
  • Nicholas Thomas, ‘Licensed Curiosity: Cook’s Pacific Voyages’, in John Elsner and Roger Cardinal, eds., The Cultures of Collecting (London: Reaktion Books, 1994), pp. 116-136

General Readings

  • Arjun Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
  • Lorraine Daston, Things that Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science (New York: Zone, 2004).
  • Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello, eds., Writing Material Culture History (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).
  • Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello, eds, The Global Lives of Things: The Material Culture of Connections in the Early Modern World (London: Routledge, 2015).
  • Paula Findlen, ed., Early Modern Things: Objects and Their Histories, 1500-1800 (London: Routledge, 2013).
  • Leonie Hannah and Sarah Longair, History Through Material Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017).
  • Karen Harvey, ed., History and Material Culture (London: Routledge, 2nd ed. 2018).
  • Daniel Hicks and Mary C. Beaudry, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • Ludmilla Jordanova, The Look of the Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)
  • Pamela H. Smith and Paula Findlen, ‘Commerce and Representation of Nature in Art and Science’, in Pamela H. Smith and Paula Findlen, eds., Merchants and Marvels: Commerce, Science, and Art in Early Modern Europe (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 1-25.
  • Claudia Swan, ‘Making Sense of Medical Collections in Early Modern Holland: The Uses of Wonder’, in Pamela H. Smith and Benjamin Schmidt, eds., Making Knowledge in Early Modern Europe: Practices, Objects, and Texts, 1400-1800 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 199-213.
  • Stefan Hanß, 'Material Encounters: Knotting Cultures in Early Modern Peru and Spain', Historical Journal, 62/3 (2019), pp. 1–33.
  • Coll Thrush, Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), pp. 139-168 (Ch 5. Manner: Navigating Ritual in Maori and Kanaka Maoli London, 1806–1866’)






Page last updated on 22 April 2020

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