Call for Papers


Folk’s interested in “Things” will be delighted to see this Conference happening at the Institute of Historical Research, London on the 11th and 12th of October 2013.

Emotional Objects: Touching Emotions in History

PDF version: Emotional Objects CFP Final

Emotional Objects

Touching Emotions in Europe 1600-1900

11th-12th October 2013, Institute of Historical Research, London.

Proposals are invited for 20 minute papers for Emotional Objects: Touching Emotions in Europe 1600-1900, funded by the European Research Council project Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel 1400-1800.

Emotional Objects aims to stimulate interdisciplinary debate concerning what objects can tell us about emotions, and what emotions contribute to material culture. In particular, it will explore the way the materiality of objects – the very stuff of which they were made – performed emotional work. In the course of the last decade, an emotional turn and a material turn have been identified as key events in historical scholarship. Nevertheless, the emotions and material culture have rarely been considered in combination. Emotional Objects aims to bring them together.

The keynote speaker Professor John…

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Things Poster for Easter Term


We’ve got a great line up for Things this Easter so please have a look at the link above to the Poster! Hopefully you’ll start to spot them around Cambridge soon!

We’ve got four great sessions lined up:

APRIL 30: Dr Sean Robert and Dr Elizabeth Upper on PRINTED THINGS

MAY 14: Dr Elaine Long and Dr Helen Smith on PAPER, MAKING, THINGS

MAY 28: DR Melaine Vandenbrouck, Felicity Powell and Ben Carpenter on HANDLING THINGS

JUNE 11: Dr Matthew Hunter and Prof Mark Hallett on PAINTED THINGS

Hope to see lots of folks there and if you can’t make it – don’t forget to follow the blog for the links to the podcast or check the CRASSH page

Royal Things

Convener Lucy Razzall summarises:

Our speakers this week offered two rich visions of the material culture of the early modern court, in continental Europe and England respectively, and between them spanning a period of several centuries. You can see the storify of tweets from the session here, and the podcast here.

In her paper entitled ‘The Fabric of Female Rule in Leone Leoni’s statue of Mary of Hungary, c. 1555’, Cordula van Wyhe from the University of York introduced us to a remarkable sixteenth-century bronze statue of the sometime Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands, and sister of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. This striking piece, standing at just over life size, is the only known full-length portrait sculpture commissioned by a woman in her life time from this period. Van Wyhe began by comparing it with a similar statue of the patron’s brother dressed as a soldier, and illuminating the contrast between the traditionally masculine, martial associations of bronze with the soft folds of Mary’s clothing. Other features of the statue are perhaps surprising, too – the long stole-like garment she wears is visibly adorned with a cross at each tip, evoking priestly garb. Leoni’s statue is an unusual artifact, a three-dimensional manifestation of some of Mary’s personal and political concerns about her own identity. This object, as van Wyhe demonstrated, urges us to see the construction of the female royal body in the early modern period as more nuanced and more powerful than is often assumed.

Turning from the furnishing of the royal body to the furnishing of royal rooms, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, took us on a whistle-stop tour of the art in some of the London royal residences, courtesy of the beautiful watercolour images from William Henry Pyne’s The History of Royal Residences, of 1819. Juxtaposing these with some details from the inventories of the collection made during the Regency period, Shawe-Taylor explained that the Royal Collection Trust is currently using these two major sources to piece together a more comprehensive account of the collection’s history, at least since the Restoration. His wonderfully detailed discussion led us into many different rooms, and revealed the ways in which changing tastes and fashions have affected how paintings were displayed in these royal spaces. For some time, as Pyne’s images show, it was conventional to hang paintings directly on top of wall tapestries. Pyne’s images also illustrate the varying importance of certain architectural features, such as the space over the door, often reserved for a portrait, even in a room in which there are no other portraits. By the nineteenth century, St James’s Palace was considered terribly old-fashioned, and not used as a place of residence – and so the works displayed there (and the ways in which they were arranged on the walls) correspondingly represent the kinds of things that were not so much in vogue at the time. At play in all of these images, Shawe-Taylor emphasised, is an evident tension between antiquarian and aesthetic concerns, and how they each inform choices about which paintings are on display, as well as where and how they are displayed. He suggested we might see the inventories as a kind of map, marking out the locations of each work of art within the royal residences. (It was amusing to hear that the frequent mentions of ‘Janet’ in the inventory in fact refer to Jean Clouet, the influential portrait artist of the Northern Renaissance).

However, he also issued a warning about the dangerous temptations these inventories (and others, presumably) offer. Such is the appeal of tracing ‘things’, and especially royal ‘things’, is all too easy to believe one has found exactly what one was looking for amongst the tantalizing array of entries, and to misidentify something.

Re-Materialising Things


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What a stimulating session we had at ‘Things’ last Tuesday! Dr Mary Brooks (from Durham University) and Jane Wildgoose (Kingston University and Keeper of the Wildgoose Memorial Library) are old friends, so brought a real depth of discussion and mutual engagement to considering ‘Re-Materialising Things’ for us. You can read the tweets from the session here, and listen to the podcast here (although I’m afraid this week it’s only available to those with a Cambridge log-in, sorry).

Jane Wildgoose is an artist, who has worked with museums and collections in both the USA and UK, thinking about questions of decay and disappearance. She told us about one exhibition she worked on, which dealt with questions of object survival both inside and outside the museum. Promiscuous Assemblage, Friendship and the Order of Things was conceived with the Yale Centre for British Art, to accompany the Centre’s exhibition Mrs Delany and her Circle in 2009-2010, which later also showed at the Sir John Soane Museum. Jane used the catalogue of the Duchess of Portland’s museum to reconstruct this lost collection, which was so central to the friendship between Mary Delany and the Duchess. The process of attempting to ‘grasp and make manifest’ the ephemeral works listed in the catalogue, which now no longer survive, from shell-works to small stuffed hummingbirds (apt for tweeting Jane pointed out!), allowed Jane to think about how human relationships worked through these objects. Her centrepiece was a scaled-up re-conception of the famous Portland Vase (now in the British Museum) made with ceramic artist Oriel Harwood and decorated, instead of with classical allegory, with these ephemeral natural creatures. She discussed how emotional some visitors’ reactions to the installation were, and how she came to think about objects as holding some indestructible key to life and relationships.

Mary Brooks is a conservator, who has known and been influenced by Jane’s work for many years. She talked about the exhibition Human Nature that Jane did in Maidstone in 2003 and a show of her own Stop the Rot at York Castle Museum in 1994, both of which used decayed objects from the stores, to talk about broken things, how, and indeed whether, we should fix and freeze them in a museum. Mary drew comparisons between stopping objects in time and our Western obsession with looking youthful, suggesting that this creates a ‘barrier about completeness’ that separates visitors and objects. Mary stressed how museums use ‘magical thinking’ to transport visitors to the past, emphasising the smells, texture and reality of objects experienced in a museum. The marketing so often suggests a stopping or dislocation of time. Hence, a ‘museum is a machine for the destruction of time’, Mary suggested, in which we feel the need to complete broken objects. Questions about how far to do so, or to let decay and use have a value, are exciting for her as a conservator. Ideas about cleanliness ‘Purity and Danger’ (homage to Mary Douglas) work differently in museums, Mary concluded, discussing recent reactions to the Cutty Sark (here’s the link to the video she discussed) to suggest that we feel a sense of betrayal when objects turn out to be largely re-materialised.

What struck me was how much both Jane and Mary were surprised and gratified by visitor responses, at how much decayed objects appeal to people when they show a life and history of use. We went on to discuss whether this works better within the contrasted space of a museum, and Jane gave us the symbolism of objects literally being frozen to enter museums uncontaminated, and how this might be removing the heat of meaning as well as of decay. We ended by coming full circle back to Jonathan Lamb’s idea of things as ‘implacable’ in the first session on ‘Thinking Things’.

CFP – Ephemerality and Durability – CRASSH and the Huntington



 Colloquia at

CRASSH, University of Cambridge:

24-25 May 2013 


The USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute,

Huntington Library, San Marino, California:

27-28 September 2013

Call for graduate / early career participants

Studies in the visual and material culture of the early modern world have recently focused on the concrete materiality or ‘thingness’ of things.  But why is it that certain early modern things endured while others did not?  Was it because of the intrinsic properties of their materials or other reasons: use and abuse, cultural or religious value, chance or neglect?  How should we study those artefacts that have not survived, or which have endured in an imperfect state: the broken, incomplete, cast off and lost things of the early modern world?

This pair of colloquia will examine the fragility and robustness of early modern objects, exploring not only the matter of their material, but also the transitory or forgotten ways in which they were experienced and used.  Reflecting on the sensory and temporal dimensions of artefacts, we will consider the effects upon them of memory, habit, and custom, exploring themes such as impermanence, decay, repair, and recycling.  While seeking to recapture the early modern contexts that determined ephemerality and durability, we will ponder also the unspoken gaps in museums, libraries and archives, and how these themes shape current scholarship.

The colloquia will be an opportunity for graduate students and early career researchers to present work-in-progress and to discuss their research with established local and international scholars.  Confirmed participants in the Cambridge colloquium include Prof. Peter Stallybrass (UPenn), Prof. Christine Göttler (Bern), Dr Niall Atkinson (Chicago), Dr Marta Ajmar (V&A), Prof. Jacob Soll (USC), Dr Jessica Keating (USC).  Funding for travel and accommodation is available to enable Cambridge participants to attend the California meeting.  Those interested in participating in either colloquium should submit by Monday 25 March a 500-word abstract of their proposed topic, a CV, and a letter of support from their supervisor (if a graduate student) or an academic reference (if an early career researcher).  Applications will be reviewed by the colloquia organisers and the successful applicants notified by mid-April.  Preference may be given to those applicants willing and able to participate in both colloquia.

Applications should be in Word or PDF format and should be sent via email to Francé Davies:  Informal enquiries may be addressed to the programme Director, Dr Alexander Marr:

The colloquia have been organised under the aegis of the CRASSH-EMSI collaborative programme Seeing Things: Early Modern Visual and Material Culture, Things is generously supported by CRASSH, EMSI, the Dean Joan Schaeffer Fund of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, the Huntington Library, and a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant.

Model Things

For the second ‘Things’ Session of term Professor Simon Schaffer from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge was joined by Dr Anna Maerker from the Department of History at King’s College London for a discussion of ‘Model Things’ in the eighteenth-century.

Dr Anna Maerker was first up with her talk: “Model Bodies and Model Experts” which explored material that she has written on extensively in her book: Model Experts: Wax Anatomies and Enlightenment in Florence and Vienna, 1775-1815 (Manchester University Press, 2011). Anna opened with several thought provoking questions considering the tension between ideal and exact replication of human anatomy in models as well as how these models were viewed in the eighteenth century and how knowledge of this effects the way that historians regard them today.  Dr Maerker’s paper focused on the Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History ‘La Specola’ in late eighteenth-century Florence which housed a famous collection of life-sized wax models of the human body which was established and funded with the enlightenment ambition of furthering public happiness through education. The talk gave a vivid and insightful account of how the collection came together and maintained itself, both at the level of the assemblage as a whole and the construction of individual pieces; taking us from state funding issues and ambitions to an account of the processes involved in the production of wax models in the workshop. Conclusions of the paper related to modes of expression in model production as well as the relationship of expertise and public understanding in the space of the collection.

Dr Meaker’s talk was followed and well balanced by a talk by our second speaker Professor Simon Schaffer on Automata and their wider role in late eighteenth-century society as objects used to display skill, satirise, admire and unmask. Professor Schaffer raised questions regarding the functioning of seemingly self-moving things in a culture fascinated by the workings of the theatre and of the market, especially in juxtaposition with other mobile things of the period, such as spring clocks and water pumps. During the course of the talk, Professor Schaffer discussed three different historical narratives that automata could potentially be part of: orientalism, anatomy and enlightenment. Favouring an enlightenment narrative, Professor Schaffer worked towards a discussion of Kant’s ‘enlightenment’ as man being more than a machine. To finish his talk Professor Schaffer asked an open ended question about the narrative that still functioning automata can have in the context of being filmed in the modern day; what is the best way to film them? We were treated to a short section of Simon Schaffer’s next BBC programme on automata which will be airing in spring! Watch out for it, but for now check out the podcast and the live tweets!

Altered Things


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Convener Michelle Wallis discusses the first session of Lent Term:

We opened the term here at ‘Things’ with a double billing from Birkbeck, in the form of Dr Luisa Calè and Dr Adam Smyth speaking on the theme of ‘Altered Things’. You can read tweets from the seminar here, and access the podcast here.

The session started with a bang when Dr Smyth opened his paper on the cutting of books in early modern England with a picture of Hunter S. Thompson aiming a gun at his typewriter. This image engaged with Dr Smyth’s challenge to us to re-think acts we might consider ones of destruction or even desecration, as benign, creative or even reverent.  Though concerned primarily with the unique textual ‘things’ produced by the Little Gidding religious community in the 1630s by cutting up printed bibles and re-assembling individual letters, words and phrases to produce new versions of the Gospels, Dr Smyth’s paper made connections with Dada-ist poetry and Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Tree Of Codes, created by the selective cutting of another novel, encouraging us to think in new ways about early modern reading practices and the creation through cutting of such unusual ‘things.’

Dr Luisa Calè followed up with a paper on reading, collecting and extra-illustrating. She introduced us to practices I am sure were new to many listeners, as she discussed the extra-illustration of printed literary works, in this case Romantic-era editions of Shakespeare. Once again, printed works were cut up and presented anew, but in this case, the entire pages of a work, presented in a window cut in the page of an album, would be illustrated with collected print images, just as the Little Gidding bibles were illustrated with cut-out prints. The process is described in Thomas Frognall Dibden’s wonderfully bizarre Bibliomania or Book Madness, published in 1811, which frames book-love pathologically. These amazing objects, many of which reside in the private collections of the elite women who created them, exist at a fascinating intersection of reading and collecting and, like the Little Gidding works, of destruction and creation, as the avid bibliophiles destroyed other books in their quest to harvest images for their own creations.

Lent Term Programme

We are excited to announce a brilliant programme for the coming term at ‘Things’. Sessions will, as usual, be held 12.30-2.30pm on alternate Tuesdays in the large seminar room at CRASSH. A light lunch will be provided.

Each seminar will feature two talks each considering a way of thinking about objects.

January 22, 2013 – Altered Things – Dr Luisa Calè (Birkbeck) and Dr Adam Smyth (Birkbeck)

February 5, 2013 – Model Things – Professor Simon Schaffer (Cambridge) and Dr Anna Maerker (Kings College London)

February 19, 2013 – Re-materialising Things – Jane Wildgoose (Kingston University and Keeper of The Wildgoose Memorial Library) and Dr Mary Brooks (Durham)

March 5, 2013 – Royal Things – Dr Cordula Van Wyhe (York) and Desmond Shawe-Taylor (Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures)

Abstracts will soon be available on the CRASSH website at