The first session of “Things” set up the rest of the series fantastically with two papers and a general discussion that touched on a massive variety of topics, from historiographical methodology to theoretical museum practices of display and object choice, to broken scientific instruments to woven dresses from the Pacific!
Nick Thomas (Director of the Museum and Professor of Historical Anthropology, Cambridge) started the seminar with a discussion of the difficulty of saying something about certain objects, especially when they can be ‘like nothing but itself”. Nick also encouraged us not to think about a linear connection between an object and its context; but instead to think that objects should be used to “test” their contexts, rather than being defined by them. The range of objects that Nick discussed to give examples for this idea was beautifully eclectic, reminding us that material culture in the eighteenth century also includes objects from the Pacific and that a richer understanding of material culture in Europe would be gained by asking questions about how objects that came from the Pacific were argued for in the long eighteenth century.
Simon Schaffer (Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge) continued the discussion with important insights into “wounded objects” and the essential work of drawing networks when investigating a historical object; networks the mapped the material used to construct the object as well as networks to tell us about the history of the piece after and during its construction. Simon tells us to look at objects and see “assemblages”. Again the fantastic range of objects mentioned by Simon shifts our understanding of what should be included under the title “material culture” during the courses of this seminar series.
The discussion at the end of the two brilliant papers, was very spirited and equally thought provoking. I won’t spoil the ending, as luckily for those unable to get to Cambridge, or CRASSH, for our cracking start to the year, the pod-cast is avaliable and can be found on the following page on the CRASSH media gallery:
Hope to see you all later today for a session on Botany! Hopefully another pod-cast to follow also!