Registration for this event is closed. Bard Graduate Center faculty, students, fellows, staff, and alumni who would like to attend should email [email protected].

Material culture is often described as a “survival” of the past in the present, be it in the form of evocative fragments or as “traces” enlisted in historical inquiry. The implicit preoccupation with our relationship with the past has diverted attention from the relationship which past actors had with their future and the ways in which they relied on material culture to shape that relationship. If the future-oriented perceptions of past actors were at all considered, they tended to be rationalized in terms of social and economic interests that are external to the material engagements underpinning cultural phenomena. In this symposium an international panel of material culture specialists will explore how imagination and planning towards the future affected relationships between objects and people. How did the future possibilities envisaged by past actors condition the ways in which they created, perceived, transformed, stored, and discarded objects? What are the broader methodological implications of understanding artefacts as starting-points for, rather than outcomes of, cultural practices? To what extent can material culture be understood to embody the desired life-paths of human and non-human agents? To gain traction on the futural tensions implicit in material culture, the participants will explore a series of case studies (artefacts and assemblages from different Eurasian and Mediterranean contexts of the first millennium BC) through the lens of recent research on distributed creativity and notions of the possible. These emerging fields foreground the material and relational foundations of creative action. By studying innovation as anticipation (that is: as the ongoing dynamics between hands and minds, manipulation and imagination, in the making and use of objects) this symposium is intended to challenge the rigid dichotomies in archaeological thought between mental and material processes, and actual and possible realities. The discussions aim to enrich not only current accounts of how individuals and groups evolve in their social fields but also the traditional large-scale narratives centered on technological “revolution,” cross-cultural diffusion, and state formation.