Things that Matter, 1400 – 1900

Our theme for 2014/15 is ‘Things that Matter.’

Please see the CRASSH website for our programme:

Follow us at @CambridgeThings for live tweeting of our seminars and news about podcasts; we continue to use #emthings as our hashtag.

Cambridge Graduate Students – Thinking with Things workshop at CRASSH – Thursday 1 May 2014, 2:00-5:40

All are invited to join us for this extra Things workshop, at CRASSH, showcasing some of the variety of material cultures work being done by graduate students in different departments at the University of Cambridge. There is no registration fee, but please email the conveners at if you expect to come, so we can make sure there are enough biscuits!

In SG1/2 at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities Alison Richard Building 7 West Road Cambridge CB3 9DT.


Session 1: 2:00-3:30

Irene Cooper (History) Methodologies of material culture. Material culture of religion. (1400-1600)

Eleanor Chan (History of Art) English Cognitive Style, Material and Immaterial: Embroidered and/or Geometric Traces of Post Reformation Visuality

Giulia Galastro (History)  Forbidden Finery: the aims and targets of early modern Genoese sumptuary law

Tea/Coffee 3:30-4:00

Session 2: 4:00-5:30

Natalie Lawrence (History and Philosophy of Science) The ‘Devil of Taiwan’ and the ‘Scaly Lizard’ in colonies and cabinets

Heidi Egginton (History) “A Museum of Furniture”: Collecting Antiques in the West End Department Store, c. 1900-1914

Tess Little (History) La femme tondue revisited: contextualising photography of Liberation France, 1944-45

5:30-5:40 Closing remarks

Abstracts and Bios

Irene (Galandra) Cooper’s PhD is part of an interdisciplinary project called Domestic Devotion – the place of piety in the Italian Renaissance Home, 1400-1600, that brings together the study of books, buildings, objects, spaces, images and archives in order to understand how religion functioned in the Renaissance household. The project starts from the view that religion was a key to the life of ordinary Italians in the period 1400-1600, which far from being one of increased secularization, was instead a period of intense religious revitalization. So far, scholarly attention has focussed on the Italian Renaissance material world starting with the assumption that commodification = secularization, and the project intends to challenge such view.

The ‘domestic devotion’ project aims to study three Italian regions: the inland Veneto, the Marche and Naples and its surroundings. I have chosen to focus on Naples and its surroundings, using the Veneto and the Marche as points of comparison. My research at the moment is just a long list of questions, the most important of these is how to enable unprecedented glimpses into the private lives of Renaissance Neapolitans.

One of the possible ‘way ins’ into the house of the Early Modern Neapolitan is to study the material culture of their devotion, with a particular interest in putting under the microscope the relationship between the material and the spiritual as a more complex and involved relationship than the simple binary opposition sacred and secular. Devotional ornaments, and their misuse, could give an idea of the individual’s beliefs. I am only at the beginning of my research, but I would like to give you an example of the polyvalent role that can be assumed by devotional objects by showing you the visual evidence I gathered so far by focussing on the rosary – as one of the objects that inevitably turns up in many XV and XVI centuries inventories.

Eleanor Chan is a  first year PhD student at the History of Art Department at Cambridge, supervised by Alex Marr; my full project is titled ‘Mathematicized Bodies: Visuality, Cognition and Religion in England and the Netherlands 1570-1660’, and focuses on the relationship between art, natural philosophy and religion in the post-Reformation context.

Abstract: Patrick Collinson’s seminal contention that early modern England suffered from a ‘severe visual anorexia’ has led to a general consensus that, following the Reformation, English society became consciously blind to the powers of the visual. This claim is based overwhelmingly on an assumption that visual aesthesis can only be induced by an image. Two- and three-dimensional representations, sacred and secular, are by no means the only objects which evoke visual appreciation.  The material artefacts of this period, from extant embroidered furnishings to the many texts which continued to make use of the image, silently contradict the concept of ‘visual anorexia’. By acknowledging the sheer variety of objects which can appeal to the eye, my argument recognizes that the question of visual anorexia needs to be divorced from those surrounding the survival of pre-Reformation modes of art and representation. The question, rather, needs to be re-framed in terms of where the pre-Reformation thinking-through-and-with the visual went, in order to assess how far this dearth truly spread.

This paper aims to contribute to the already abundant scholarship in this field by transforming the established question of post-Reformation art into one of visual appreciation and aesthesis, cognitive/sensory perception of the external world, in general. Allowing these various manifestations of reflection upon God into dialogue with one another will provide a valuable discursive space within which to examine the senses not in isolation, but as an entangled, collective mode of experience. Such an investigation will shed light not only upon what became of visuality in this period, but also, crucially, upon the ways in which the English imagined their relationship with God, in the decades following the Elizabethan Settlement.

Giulia Galastro  is in the final year of a PhD in History, supervised by Dr Mary Laven, at the University of Cambridge, where she also completed her MPhil and BA. Her thesis is entitled ‘The Fabric of Early Modern Genoa’. Her research uses a range of sources including guild records, household inventories, and erudite comedies to investigate clothing and textiles in a populous early modern republic which has been much neglected by English-speaking historians. She is particularly interested in the relationship between material culture and gender.

Abstract: Taking legal action to forbid a thing implicitly acknowledges the power of that thing: this is one of the few statements that can be made with certainty about sumptuary law. The importance accorded to the luxury goods – above all clothing – that these prolific laws proscribed was clear, but the motives of the lawmakers are more mysterious. In particular with regards to dress, they seem to have been engaged in a futile game of ‘Fashion Whack-a-Mole’: as soon as one trend was hammered down, another inevitably sprung up in its place. What was the point of it all?

Despite the fact that Genoa boasts one of Europe’s earliest pieces of sumptuary legislation, its laws have attracted only a fraction of the scholarly attention of other Italian locations – yet they have much to add to the debate. This paper seeks to redress this balance, drawing not only on the laws themselves, which are rich in details of the material culture of the time, but also on contemporary literary sources, and on the four years extant Denuncie, records of sumptuary transgressions. Examining the laws in action, we begin to build a spatialised narrative of elite sociability, of forbidden finery being flaunted around the city: gatherings of young men in black velvet embroidered with gold, and women in striped satin gowns on their way to mass, surrounded by servants. A quantitative analysis of the offences presents some surprising conclusions. By contrast to the traditional understanding of women as the main targets of sumptuary legislation, in Genoa there were nearly three times as many men breaking the law on clothing as women. I ask why this might be, and explore wider issues of why controlling luxury goods was vital for civic harmony.

Natalie Lawrence is a second year PhD student at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge. Her thesis explores the characterisation and iconography of exotic animals in early modern natural history.

Abstract: In early modern Europe, exotic and curious animals were in many cases assembled from widely distributed specimens: skins, bones, feathers, scales and other body parts became trade goods shipped to the metropole along with stories and images collected by travellers and traders. The management of the relationship between the representation of these exotic fauna and the movement and presence of such fragile and ambiguous things was crucial in early modern natural history.

A telling example of these complex relations is provided by the Asian pangolin, the first European natural historical description of which was provided by Carolus Clusius in 1605. He gave a detailed account of several skins of the Lacertus Peregrinus squamosus (foreign scaly lizard), but stated that their owners did not know where these skins had come from. Later naturalists in Europe and the East Indies gave descriptions of the Diabolum de Tajoán (Devil of Taiwan) or the Lacertus echinatus (Lizard-hedgehog) based on cabinet specimens or live examples that they had seen themselves. Like the South American armadillos, the scaly-skinned pangolins were transportable and easily preserved, so were prevalent ‘wonders’ in European curiosity cabinets, yet they were not given a distinct identity in early modern European natural history. The pangolin was a spatially dispersed animal with many different places of origin, including Goa, Siam and Ceylon, without being integral to the iconography characterising any one place. It remained a liminal creature, sharing its highly unusual features with lizards, anteaters and armadillos, acting as a conceptual link between reptiles and warm-blooded animals.

Heidi Egginton is a PhD student in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge, working towards a thesis entitled ‘Cultures of Amateur Antique and Curio Collecting in Britain, c. 1868-1939’.

Abstract: At the turn of the twentieth century, a number of large emporia selling household goods in the vicinity of Oxford Street began to expand their stock to include a range of antiques, curios, and old objets d’art. As a means of publicising their own status as serious ‘collectors’, antiques departments within these shops held free exhibitions, created acres of galleries containing model period rooms, and even collaborated with antiquarians and other experts to publish material cultural histories and collecting manuals. Earlier studies have tended to focus on department stores’ use of fine and Oriental art, rather than their extensive collections of bric-à-brac, old English furniture, and antique needlework, and consequently some of the meanings that these ‘authentic’ objects could acquire in the retail environment have been overlooked.

This paper examines a variety of sources written by and about stores including Waring & Gillow, Debenham & Freebody, and Gill & Reigate, and demonstrates that their ‘Antique Galleries’ were by no means arranged solely for the delectation of élite connoisseurs. Instead, the stores various promoters saw that displays of historic furniture and ornaments could provide imaginative and intellectual inspiration to ‘middle class’ antiques enthusiasts of more moderate means, proclaiming themselves on a mission to educate the public in matters of history and design, as well as taste. These West End firms can thus be seen as significant conduits disseminating the pursuit of antiques collecting to a much wider and more socially diverse audience than ever before; in the process they not only responded to, but also helped to shape, contemporary collecting identities.

Tess Little: having graduated with a first-class degree in History from the University of Oxford, she is now reading for an MPhil in Modern European History at the University of Cambridge. Her current research focuses on a case study of the Liberation of Cherbourg in 1944, and seeks to reinsert a study of les femmes tondues into a wider investigation into the punishments of l’épuration sauvage.

Abstract: ‘Femmes tondues’ were French women punished during the Liberation by ritualised head-shaving, for collaboration with the Germans. They comprise a major component of public memory of the Liberation, perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the ubiquity of photographs of the phenomenon. These images frequently appeared in contemporary media. Representation varied depending on the context: through ‘comical’ captions, a local newspaper might ridicule the woman depicted; whereas international publications used the pictures to demonstrate French barbarity. These images are used today, as illustrations for journalistic features and histories. Yet there is little investigation into the subject matter, or the nature of the photographs themselves.

Moreover, while there is already a large body of historiography on les femmes tondues, hitherto the persecution of female collaborators has only been studied in isolation from other punishments of l’épuration sauvage. We must reinsert the ritual into a wider study of the purges. Only through this can we ascertain whether men and women were rounded up separately, whether only the punishment of women became a spectacle, whether the persecution of both genders targeted the same socioeconomic groups, whether each were treated differently by official authorities.

Purges of liberated France are often examined through court records, written accounts, and memoirs; in newspaper coverage of male collaborators, the emphasis was upon the details of their crime. In contrast, contemporary articles on les femmes tondues only portrayed their collaboration visually. These records of the spectacle of the punishment are the only way to fully investigate the phenomenon. Taken by allied troops and journalists, photographs were sent to the allied pool for censorship and are now archived at the Imperial War Museum. Along with newsreel footage, newspapers and gendarmerie reports, these sources form the basis of my research. However, I will also contextualise the photographs in visual culture to explore gendered imagery.

“Thinking with Things, 1500-1940” Graduate Workshop, 25th of April, 2014

I am very pleased to announce the call for papers for

Thinking with Things, 1500-1940:
An interdisciplinary material culture workshop for graduate students and early career scholars, at CRASSH at Cambridge
25th April 2014

Keynote speaker: Dr Spike Bucklow, Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge
Closing Remarks: Dr Katy Barrett, Royal Museums, Greenwich

Thinking with Things is a one-day workshop to be held on Friday 25th
April, 2014 at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and
Humanities (CRASSH), at the University of Cambridge. Research students
from any discipline within the arts, social sciences, and humanities are
invited to submit proposals for papers, and/or panels of three papers,
that consider how ‘things’ can put a new perspective on the past. This
workshop is affiliated with the ‘Things: Comparing Material Cultures’
seminar series at CRASSH

Over the past thirty years, the ‘material turn’ has reformed the way in
which many historians approach the past, but attention to the ‘stuff’ of
history has concerned archaeologists, art historians, anthropologists
and sociologists for some time. From shoes to anatomical specimens, from
people to paintings, from durable glass and porcelain to fragile fabrics
and ephemeral foodstuffs, a vast array of ‘things’ are now subject to
the researcher’s gaze, offering valuable windows into the experience of
historical actors and the objects that mediated past social and cultural

The recognition that material objects are worthy subjects of scholarship
is the premise of the successful CRASSH Graduate Seminar ‘Things’. Now
in its third year, ‘Things’ began life as a series whose primary object
was the study of material culture in the so-called consumerist ‘long
eighteenth century’, taking the format of regular sessions of two papers
on related themes and/or objects presented by scholars from different
disciplinary backgrounds. Today, the series incorporates a longer
chronological span, but retains its original focus on the material lives
of the past and continues to attract scholars of all stripes to speak on
a range of topics.

The aim of this workshop is to give graduate students (at both PhD and
Masters level) and early career scholars a chance to present their work
and to participate in discussion in the lively, welcoming and highly
interdisciplinary space that ‘Things’ has created. Following the model
of the ‘Things’ series, the conference will be structured around a
series of panels that focus on particular types of objects or particular
thematic questions (such as issues of methodology or themes like

We encourage applications for 20-minute papers (or panels of 3 such
papers) along the following themes (broadly construed) in relation to
the period 1500-1940:

•       Methodologies of material culture
•       Material culture and modernity
•       Print and advertising: books, newspapers, posters, magazines,
packaging and ephemera
•       Material culture of religion: art, icons, buildings
•       Objects of desire: fashion, clothing and luxury
•       Eating and drink: festivals, cooking, eating paraphernalia, and food
•       Scientific and medical objects: tools, images, teaching materials
•       Industrial objects: mass production machines and the objects they make
•       War: memorials, diaries, uniforms
•       Gendered things
•       Cultures of collecting & travel

Abstracts of no more than 300 words, accompanied by a brief biographical
note of no more than 100 words stating degree status and any
institutional affiliation, should be sent to by 3rd March 2014. This conference is
being organised by Lesley Steinitz, Michelle Wallis and Mike Ashby
(University of Cambridge).

This workshop has been made possible due to funding from the University
of Cambridge History Faculty, and organisational assistance and
facilities from CRASSH. We are unable to cover travel or accommodation
costs for speakers, though we are happy to help book affordable
accommodation for those participants that require it. We would encourage
participants to request accommodation early, as college guest rooms are
in high demand.

We look forward to hearing from you!
Lesley Steinitz, Michelle Wallis and Mike Ashby
University of Cambridge

Things Lent Term Programme

With many apologies for the recent neglect of this blog, please find below the ‘Things’ schedule for Lent term this year. Please note that the podcasts for the first two sessions of the term are already available online – just go to the individual session pages here

Also, please note that we are having an extra session this term which was confirmed after the posters were printed – ‘Reading Things’ on the 12th of March, which will deal with aspects of 19th century book production and reading.

“Things” Comparing Material Cultures 1500-1900

Sessions held at CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT , Room SG2 (Ground Floor), Wednesdays, 12:00 to 14:00. Sandwich lunch served in foyer from 12-12.15, with seminars beginning at 12.15pm.

15th of  January: Inventories of Things Dr Jason Scott-Warren, Faculty of English, Cambridge and Dr Nancy Cox, University of Wolverhampton

29th of January: Polite Things (to Talk About): Conversation Pieces Dr Lawrence Klein, Faculty of History, Cambridge and Dr Kate Retford, History of Art, Birkbeck

12th of February: Romantic Things  Sarah Ann Robin, Faculty of History, Lancaster University and Dr Sally Holloway, Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London.

26th of February: Domestic Things Dr Tara Hamling, Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham and Dr Catherine Richardson, Department of English, University of Kent

12th of March: Reading Things Professor Jim Secord, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge, and Dr Kristina Lundblad, Division of Book History, University of Lund.



Things: Comparing Material Cultures, 1500-1900

This term we have another four great sessions for you to come along to – if you’re not able to attend, then check back to this blog for summaries and links to the podcasts for these sessions –

We’ve also got a new page on the newly designed CRASSH website and all the podcast of previous Things sessions, going back to 2011 are available on our iTunesU page.

“Things” Comparing Material Cultures 1500-1900

Sessions held at CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT , Room SG1 (Ground Floor), Wednesdays, 12:00 to 14:00

23rd October: Reconstructing Things: From Colourful Clothes to Paintings and Pigments Professor Ulinka Rublack, History Faculty, Cambridge and Dr Spike Bucklow, Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge

6th November: Housing Things: Reconstructing the Interiors of the Soane Museum and the Watts Gallery Tim Knox, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and Dr Nicholas Tromans, Curator of the Watts Gallery

20th November: Carved Things, Carved Identities: Early Modern Luso-African Ivories and the History of African combs Dr Sally-Ann Ashton, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and Professor Jean Michel Massing, History of Art, Cambridge

4th December: Things Between Places: Artefacts from Oceania and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Professor Nicholas Thomas, Director and Curator of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge and Dr Anita Herle, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge

Painted Things

We had quite a finale to the Things seminars for the year with a discussion of ‘Painted Things’ focusing on the portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Dr Matthew Hunter from McGill and Professor Mark Hallet, Director of the Paul Mellon Centre in London gave us two stimulating papers encouraging a vibrant discussion. You can read the storify of the tweets from the session here, and listen to the podcast here.

Matthew opened the session with his paper asking ‘Did Joshua Reynolds Paint his Pictures?’ He gave us a challenging discussion of Reynolds’ experimental pigment use, the resultant changing nature of Reynolds’ images, and their replication in multiple authorised copies, from mezzotints, to enamel, to needlework. He asked, using the ideas of Michael Fried, whether these multiple versions mean that we can really consider the ‘originals’ ‘pictures’ and Reynolds as having ‘painted’ them. Matthew showed us that the thorny art-historical relationship between paint, image, and picture was as alive in the eighteenth century as modern criticism. He opened with a commentary on Reynolds from the 1773 London Morning Chronicle, which challenged Reynolds on his paint use, as well as a 1914 article from the New York Times on the discovery that Reynolds was involved in replacing Poussins with replicas in the 18th century. He discussed Reynolds’ active encouragement of technically innovative copies of his portraits, which fixed the paintings more permanently, and therefore to some extent can be seen as ‘picturing’ them. Challenging Walter Benjamin, Matthew suggested we can see a story of ‘Reynolds’ painting in the age of chemo-mechanical reproduction.’ In the context of Reynolds’ 6th Discourse on Art, Matthew further argued that we should see Reynolds’ mind as like an alchemical laboratory, Reynolds himself expecting his paintings to develop and mature over time, as the pigments aged. By ending with a comparison to photography and photographic theory, Matthew concluded that Reynolds’ paintings challenge the idea of single artistic creation, needing us to re-consider both what a ‘picture’ and ‘painting’ is, and the art historical boundary that has been established between painting and photography.

Mark Hallett followed with his paper ‘Point Counter Point: Joshua Reynolds, portraiture and late eighteenth-century exhibition culture.’ He took us out of Reynolds’ studio into the Great Room at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, to argue that Reynolds’ portraits should not be examined individually but considered in their relationships on the exhibition walls. He responded immediately to Matthew’s ideas on the paintings developing over time, suggesting that different pictures therefore exist of the same painting, between studio, gallery and owner’s house. Mark opened with the 1780 portrait of The Ladies Waldegrave, discussing how Reynolds’ use of pale whites and greys  against deep reds served to make the painting stand out in the Great Room. He compared this to the portrait of Lord Richard Cavendish also displayed in 1784, arguing that Reynolds increasingly used this space to display his different portraits of women. Moving on to actresses, Mark compared Reynolds’ portrait of Mrs Abington as Roxalana to Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse, arguing that these created contrasting views of tragic and comic acting, not only in the actresses and their histories, but in Reynolds’ choice of style and their different settings in the same Great Room exhibition. With Mrs Abington peeping out between masculine constructions of combat and martial valour, and Mrs Siddons towering sublimely over portraits of more traditionally feminine women and children, the two created a striking view of Reynolds’ skill. Mark ended with a discussion of the multiple portraits shown by Reynolds in the 1787 Great Room – showing us each painting’s place in contemporary engravings – where he set multiple representations of aristocratic motherhood against a controversial portrait of George IV.

In the lively and wide-ranging discussion, we considered visitors’ reactions to the displayed paintings and the afterlife of the paintings and their copies. Questions asked Matthew and Mark to expand on their thought-provoking papers, considering whether we can draw a broader model for eighteenth-century views on art, and what Matthew’s ideas mean for history of photography, and the history of art based on Michael Baxandall. What a brilliant end to a brilliant year!

Handling Things


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Yet another stimulating session at ‘Things’ this week, considering medals and amulets with Melanie Vandenbrouck from the National Maritime Museum and Ben Carpenter from the University of Wolverhampton. Both speakers emphasised the importance of haptic experience in our understanding of medals as objects, not something we’re normally used to considering in a museum setting, or even in a Things seminar. You can read the storify of the live tweets from the session here, and listen to the podcast here.

Melanie started off for us talking about ‘Putting the finger on the rise and fall of the absolutist monarchy: medals of the Sun King and the French Revolution.’ She argued that the changing production and dissemination of medals between Louis XIV’s reign and the French Revolution can only fully be understood with an appreciation of these medals through touch. They are miniature sculptures, perfect for disseminating ideas. Excitingly, she brought four example medals with her, kindly loaned by the Simmons Gallery. Melanie showed us examples from medals included in the series Histoire Métallique de Louis Le Grand, designed and produced under the aegis of the Académie des Inscriptions, including an evocative series showing the ageing Louis on the obverse. The reverse designs bore carefully constructed allegorical and political messages about his reign. By contrast, medals produced during the French Revolution were created to commemorate specific events, showing crowded historical scenes. Some, amazingly, were even cast from the melted-down iron bars of the Bastille. Talk about meaning in matter! Melanie also emphasised how different medals showed attitudes and uses. Those disseminated by the Académie des Inscriptions often remaining shiny and protected in expensive cabinets, while one commemorating Marat had been re-engraved on the back and showed intense wear caused by being worn against the owner’s chest. She emphasised how we need to allow for handling in our understanding of the past, especially in the ‘enlightenment’ world which itself saw touch as the primary sense.

Ben followed by relating these ideas into both contemporary medallic art and nineteenth-century amulet collections, ‘This Living Hand: The medal as a tangible made object.’ He highlighted for us the complex relationship between the hand of the artist – associated so closely with questions of talent, authority, and authenticity – and the hand of the viewer/holder in experiencing held art. He emphasised how medals exist on the debated boundary between art and craft, and so overlap both with anthropological objects like amulets, and with ‘high art’ sculpture. This status is what draws many contemporary artists to medals. Ben showed us works by Cathie Pilkington, such as Jumping Jack, which relate to toys, both in their evocation of over-used and broken things, and in the ways that they need to be played with and moved to see their meaning. The title work of his talk, This Living Hand by Chloe Shaw, combines Keat’s handwriting with thermochromic paint which changes when held, bringing the hand of the author and holder together in one object. Finally, Ben showed Felicity Powell’s work with wax on mirror backs which were a response to the Lovett collection of amulets now at the Pitt Rivers Museum, but once at the Wellcome Collection. Both the amulets and Powell’s works were shown in the Wellcome’s beautiful show Charmed Life in 2011-12. Ben evoked for us how both object groups make relationships between materials and the owner/maker’s skin, between the owner’s material well being and the material matter of the medal or amulet. He ended by mesmerising us with one of Powell’s films of her hands at work.

Paper, Making, Things


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Michelle Wallis reports on another session at Things. You can read the storify of the tweets here, and listen to the podcast here.

One of the main aims of the ‘Things’ seminar is to invite scholars to think beyond the textual remains of the past that have informed traditional histories. This session with Helen Smith and Elaine Leong invited us to look twice at the ubiquitous paper remains of the past which oftentimes preserve those texts, and to think about how historical actors interacted with paper – in the making of paper ‘Things’.

First up was Elaine, who spoke about the medical notebooks of wealthy Cornishwoman Margaret Boscawen (d. 1688). Exploring the materiality of these notebooks – their size and shape, their divisions and subdivisions, their multiple uses and the organisation of information within them, Elaine not only opened up the too-often sealed intellectual world of early modern women, but compelled us to think beyond texts and to consider the use of notebooks and paper slips as true information technologies. I found the different shapes of these notebooks for different purposes particularly evocative – from the hefty ruled tome designed for posterity, through the long, thin book used to make lists that ordered the year’s activities, to the smallest book which allowed knowledge to travel as it’s owner made notes of receipts she gained when visiting other households. Most tantalising of all were the paper slips of Elaine’s title – their flexibility allowed the easy ordering of information, but the very materiality which enabled this use leaves them vulnerable to loss or destruction.

Helen Smith’s paper took up the theme of paper technologies, so well encapsulated in the micro-history of Elaine’s case study, and broadened it out to give us an enrapturing glimpse of the landscape of early modern paper beyond the pages of books and the leaves of letters.  In Helen’s hands, a whole world of paper comes to life – from literal paper boats, to metaphorical paper bullets; from brown paper wrappings to oil of paper, considered to contain the essence of the flax with which rag paper originated. Meditating on matter and meaning, on surfaces, and on the potential for folding, cutting, bending and moulding that paper presents, Helen restored to us the vanished paper technologies of the early modern period through the medium of her own ‘paper’. As two papers with a great deal to say to one another, Helen and Elaine’s presentations showed us the vast intellectual horizons opened up when we answer the former’s call and take the history of paper beyond the history of the book.

Printed Things

This week at Things we were joined by Dr Sean Roberts who was able to come and speak to our group thanks to funding from the Seeing Things Project also hosted by CRASSH. Speaking on the materiality of early modern engravings Sean started his paper by suggesting that an investigation of the materiality of engraving would help us to think about Renaissance art in a new way. By looking past the ephemerality of paper and focusing on the concrete process of production Sean addressed the question of what kind of a ‘thing’ a print is. By comparing woodcut and metal engraving techniques as well as considering the geography of renaissance print culture Sean came to the exciting conclusion that by adding knowledge of production to current traditional scholarship on prints we can learn more about the concept of wonder and collection in the early modern period.

Sean’s talk was followed by Elizabeth Upper who spoke to Sean’s call for technological focus directly with a discussion of colour printing techniques in the early modern period. During her discussion of the increased labour and time involved in colour printing in Tudor England, Elizabeth seconded Sean’s call for a new understanding of prints in light of production technologies. Elizabeth went onto ponder the motivation for the use of colour with symbolism and functionality made explicit by colour in engraving plans for metalwork as well as religious prints. Concluding that we have to consider the ‘thinginess’ of prints, Elizabeth argued for the connection between function and content as well as the re-categorization of prints as ‘things’ rather than images.

This first session of term sets up nicely the theme for the rest of Easter; we have papers from Elaine Leong and Helen Smith on ‘paper, making, things’, as well as Melanie Vanderbrouck and Ben Carpenter on ‘handling things’ and finally we’ll be finishing the term with Matthew Hunter and Mark Hallett discussing ‘painted things’. For those that didn’t make it to CRASSH last week, please check out the podcast of the ‘printed things’ session. While you’re there sign up to Things Podcasts on ITunesU – you can check out the previous seminars and never miss another Things session again! If you’re desire for Things is still not satiated Sean and Elizabeth’s papers were featured on the Cambridge current research blog on the university website as well.

A fantastic start to Things this term!

Want to Publish? Book series on The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700-1950

Call for submissions

Book series from Ashgate Publishing

The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700 – 1950

Series Editor:

Michael Yonan, University of Missouri

The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700­1950 provides a forum for the broad study of object acquisition and collecting practices in their global dimensions from the eighteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. The series seeks to illuminate the intersections between material culture studies, art history, and the history of collecting. HMCC takes as its starting point the idea that objects both contributed to the formation of knowledge in the past and likewise contribute to our understanding of the past today. The human relationship to objects has proven a rich field of scholarly inquiry, with much recent scholarship either anthropological or sociological rather than art historical in perspective. Underpinning this series is the idea that the physical nature of objects contributes substantially to their social meanings, and therefore that the visual, tactile, and sensual dimensions of objects are critical to their interpretation. HMCC therefore seeks to bridge anthropology and art history, sociology and aesthetics. It encompasses the following areas of concern:

1. Material culture in its broadest dimension, including the high arts of painting and sculpture, the decorative arts (furniture, ceramics, metalwork, etc.), and everyday objects of all kinds.

2.  Collecting practices, be they institutionalized activities associated with museums, governmental authorities, and religious entities, or collecting done by individuals and social groups.

3.  The role of objects in defining self, community, and difference in an increasingly international and globalized world, with cross-cultural exchange and travel the central modes of object transfer.

4.  Objects as constitutive of historical narratives, be they devised by historical figures seeking to understand their past or in the form of modern scholarly narratives.

The series publishes interdisciplinary and comparative research on objects that addresses one or more of these perspectives and includes monographs, thematic studies, and edited volumes of essays.

A list of current and forthcoming titles in the series can be viewed at

Proposals should take the form of either:

1.  a preliminary letter of inquiry, briefly describing the project; or 2.  a formal prospectus including: abstract, brief statement of your critical methodology, table of contents, sample chapter, estimated word count, estimate of the number and type of illustrations to be included, and a c.v.

Please send a copy of either type of proposal to the series editor and commissioning editor:Professor Michael Yonan,         Margaret Michniewicz, Commissioning Editor,