This seminar explored material objects or “things” from a wide variety of historical perspectives. It examined the historical significance of many different kinds of material objects, including commodities and precious metals, property and money, art and household furnishings, clothing and jewelry, weapons and technological devices, religious relics and icons, books and newspapers, food and drugs, and biological artifacts. It inquired into the cultural, social and economic meanings that these objects acquired in specific times and places, and how those meanings changed as the objects “travelled” through society and across space and time. It probed the representation of things in rituals, literature, and art and the display of things in public and private spaces. It examined the production, distribution, consumption, destruction, and fetishization of material objects. It explored the question of materiality itself and how to write its history. It brought together cultural and social historians, economic historians, historians of technology, historians of material culture, historians of art, and scholars from a variety of other disciplines who examine material objects. It sought to advance our understanding of the historical life of things in ways that are empirical, comparative, transnational, and conceptual.
*Because they were unpublished, VHS papers on The Historical Life of Things were distributed in hardcopy form only at Vanderbilt. Please contact the authors for more information on papers. You may link to their faculty page or individual seminar posters below.
Vanderbilt History Seminar 2009–2010 participants: