ISECS 2019 Roundtable – Material Culture and Identity: Synergies, Insights, Exclusions and Legacies

Further to our panel, I’ll also be speaking at ISECS as part of a roundtable on ‘Material Culture and Identity: Synergies, Insights, Exclusions and Legacies’, organised with Dr Kate Smith (University of Birmingham), Dr Leonie Hannan (Queen’s University Belfast), Professor Viccy Coltman (University of Edinburgh) & Dr Sarah McCleave (Queen’s University Belfast). The session abstract is below:

In the last thirty years, there has been a dramatic upsurge in research on material culture across our disciplines and studies of the eighteenth century have proved especially keen to engage with this theme. Research varies widely in its approach, from scholars analysing the artefacts themselves to those who use material culture as an analytical tool. Very many researchers combine work on material culture with other, more traditional, methods and approaches.

Material culture studies have also been heavily theorised and, as such, the use of objects as a route to historical understanding has often made useful connections with intellectual frameworks generated by philosophy, anthropology and science and technology studies, not to mention the important relationship between historical studies and archaeology – a sphere of collaboration that often seems under-used. It also seems telling that new research of the last decade into the senses and the emotions have strongly intersected with the study of material culture.

For all the diversity in historical material culture studies, it could still be argued that the most substantial body of work to date has focused on the ways in which material culture articulates identity – whether that is the identities of the marginalised or those of the most powerful in society. Considering the theme of this Congress and the maturity of historical material culture studies as a field of enquiry, it is a good time to reflect on the work material culture has done in uncovering unseen identities of the past. This round table will explore the legacies of material culture for eighteenth-century studies, but also ask: does our fascination with identity and the ‘self’ obscure other important and materially resonant concerns?

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