Giorgio Riello presented the Iris Foundation Awards Lecture on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, from 5:30 to 7pm. His talk was entitled “Global Things: Trade and Material Culture in the First Age of Globalization, c. 1500–1800.”



Giorgio Riello is the recipient of the 2016 Iris Foundation Award for Outstanding Mid-Career Scholar. He is Professor of Global History and Culture and Director of the Institute of Advanced Study at the University of Warwick. He is the author of A Foot in the Past (OUP 2006), Cotton: The Fabric that Made the Modern World (CUP 2013, winner of the 2014 World History Association Bentley Book Prize), and Luxury: A Rich History (OUP 2016, co-written with Peter McNeil). Riello has published extensively on the history of fashion, design, and consumption in early modern Europe and Asia. He is the co-editor of Shoes (Berg 2006; pb 2011), Global Design History (Routledge 2011), Writing Material Culture History (Bloomsbury 2014), The Global Lives of Things (Routledge 2015), and several other volumes. He is currently completing a book entitled Back in Fashion: A History of Fashion since the Middle Ages to be published by Yale University Press.

We are often told that we live in an age of globalization, one of growing homogenization of consumption, increasing communication, and cultural and economic integration. Yet the study of material culture suggests that today’s global connectedness is not new. The early modern period (c. 1500–1800) can be seen as the ‘first age of globalization.’ More than ever before, contact between different parts of the world intensified. Trade and the appreciation of commodities from different continents made material goods integral to cultural encounters and the establishment of long-lasting relationships. Two aspects are worth highlighting: first, the fact that Europe assumed a key role in global exchange but was not the only force shaping material culture in this period. Second, material exchange was not just about commodities but included gifts, looted artifacts, captured cargoes, and war prizes. Global connectivity—today as in the past—is as much about violence and force as it is about trade and cultural exchange. This talk mapped early modern globalization through an investigation of material culture, reflecting on what types of connections material artifacts created and how the study of material culture has reshaped our understanding of early modernity.