Thinking with Objects: New Directions in Social and Cultural History

AHA Session 191
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Alice L. Conklin, Ohio State University
Bonnie Effros, University of Liverpool and University of Florida

Session Abstract

This panel examines new ways of conceptualizing how communities and cultures made, remade and responded to artifacts crafted by themselves and others between the European Middle Ages and the nineteenth century. It does so by offering reflections upon objects, taking a cue from material culture studies, ethnohistory and historical anthropology – approaches developed in different fields to uncover voices hidden or garbled by written sources. These approaches allow scholars to recover the thought processes, agency and practices of groups who left little written traces of their own voices. The three papers analyze visual, artifactual and documentary traces of the lives of objects in order to think about how different objects’ natures uneasily emerged from one another – corpse vs. commodity, sacred goods vs. collectible property, curiosity vs. antiquity, inalienable property vs. legal plunder, or the individual vs. their possessions. Panelists consider questions arising from and reflecting on: the transatlantic travel, decomposition and burial of a South American mummy at the turn of the twentieth century; early modern cabinets of curiosities in which European and New World ‘antiquities’ intermingled; and domestic inventories rich in recycled objects that reveal the fuzzy ontology of medieval objects. The panel as a whole illuminates how scholars might reveal notions of identity, shifting human and object ontologies, and the permeability of the human-object boundary from the ways in which people maintained, recycled, collected, described, classified and controlled material objects in cultural, scientific, legal, political and imperial spheres. It further explores how objects themselves participated in their transformation.
See more of: AHA Sessions