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 The thirty-two participants of this workshop, which will is being sponsored and conducted by the Bard Graduate Center and the Chipstone Foundation, 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.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Session 4: “Social Distinction”

“Place and Environment”
Dana Byrd (Bowdoin College)
Melissa Calaresu (University of Cambridge)

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

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

Session 5: “Memory”

“Chronology and Time”
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (Harvard University)
Christopher Loveluck (University of Nottingham)

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

“Memory and History”
Thomas Denenberg (Shelburne Museum)
Sujit Sivasundaram (University of Cambridge)

Concluding Discussion

“Material Things and History”
Peter Burke (University of Cambridge)

The workshop is free. It will take place in the Lecture Hall at 38 West 86th Street, between Columbus Avenue & Central Park West, in New York City.

RSVP is required. Please click on the registration link at the bottom of this page or contact

PLEASE NOTE that our Lecture Hall can only accommodate a limited number of people, so please come early if you would like to have a seat in the main room. Registrants who arrive late may be seated in an overflow viewing area.

To live-stream this and other special academic events at the BGC, please visit BGCTV, our online live-streaming channel.