The thirty-two participants of this workshop, which is being sponsored and conducted by the Bard Graduate Center and the Chipstone Foundation, will discuss pre-circulated draft papers and abstracts that will form the basis of the Oxford Handbook of History and Material Culture to be edited by the conveners, Ivan Gaskell (Bard Graduate Center) and Sarah Anne Carter (Chipstone Foundation). Their goal is to define, explore, and contribute to the shaping of material culture history, fostering work on the human past from any corner of the Earth at any time.

Material things are no less rich as primary sources for historians than are written documents, but each kind—and there are many—requires interpretive skills appropriate to it. These skills overlap with those required in other disciplines, including anthropology, archaeology, art history, and philosophy. Therefore, although the project is rooted in the discipline of history, the contributors come from various fields.

Although a geographically acentric viewpoint would be ideal, the conveners acknowledge the inevasibility of their North American perspective. Therefore the workshop approaches the topic as initially a North American puzzle to be defined and compared with puzzles regarding the historical use of material culture elsewhere in the world.

The workshop is arranged thematically under five headings: “Culture and Technology,” “The Symbolic,” “Cognition,” “Social Distinction,” and “Memory.” Each of these sections is further divided into three constituent subsections comprising two case studies, one North American, the other concerning somewhere else in the world. This approach allows shared concerns and themes to emerge across conventional boundaries.

The contributors are a mixture of senior and emerging scholars from many academic traditions and parts of globe. The discussion of their very varied work, united by a shared concern with the application of material culture to the making of history, will prompt unexpected responses and unanticipated insights. The focus of the workshop is on discussion, not the presentation of papers, and the contributors will have a further eleven months to prepare their chapters for the Handbook in the light of those exchanges, and subsequent contacts.

May 9, 9:30 am6:15 pm

Peter N. Miller (Bard Graduate Center)
Jonathan Prown (The Chipstone Foundation)

Ivan Gaskell (Bard Graduate Center)
Sarah Anne Carter (Chipstone Foundation)
Introductory Remarks

Session 1: Culture and Technology

Rebecca Onion (Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science)
John Robb (University of Cambridge)
Design and Purpose

J. Ritchie Garrison (University of Delaware)
Stability Versus Instability of Things

Sara Schechner (Harvard University)
Ellen Gruber Garvey (New Jersey City University)
Obsolete and Discarded Things

Session 2: The Symbolic

David Morgan (Duke University)
Olaya Sanfuentes (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)
Material and the Immaterial

Colleen McDannell (University of Utah)
Denise Ho (Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Sacred and Profane

Judy Kertész (North Carolina State University)
Henry Drewal (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Human Bodies

Session 3: Cognition

Mónica Dominguez Torres (University of Delaware)
Steven Conn (Ohio State University)
Categorizing Things: Nature and Artifice

A.W. Eaton (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Co-Evolution of Things and People

Amber Musser (Washington University in St. Louis)
Lambros Malafouris (University of Oxford)
Ascription of Agency to Things

May 10, 9:30 am-5 pm

Ivan Gaskell (Bard Graduate Center)
Sarah Anne Carter (Chipstone Foundation)
Introductory Remarks

Session 4: Social Distinction
Dana Byrd (Bowdoin College)
Melissa Calaresu (University of Cambridge)
Place and Environment

Edward Cooke (Yale University)
Daniel Lord Smail (Harvard University)
Understanding People through Their Things

Laura Johnson (Historic New England)
Neil Curtis (University of Aberdeen)
Shared Versus Personal Rights in Things

Session 5: Memory
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (Harvard University)
Christopher Loveluck (University of Nottingham)
Chronology and Time

Catherine Whalen (Bard Graduate Center)
Marla Berns (Fowler Museum, UCLA)
Uses of Things in a Wide Range of Historical Practices

Thomas Denenberg (Shelburne Museum)
Sujit Sivasundaram (University of Cambridge)
Memory and History
Concluding Discussion

Peter Burke (University of Cambridge)
Material Things and History