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Vanderbilt History Seminar 2009-2010



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*Because they were unpublished, VHS papers on The Historical Life of Things were distributed in hardcopy form only at Vanderbilt.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:

Leor Halevi, Vanderbilt University
Imperial Commodities and the Search for a Modern Islam: The Fatwas of Rashid Rida, 1903–1935
September 14, 2009

Daryle Williams, University of Maryland
A Paradox of People and Things in Nineteenth-Century Brazilian Slave Society
October 19, 2009

Judy Kertész, North Carolina State University
"All—save the piles of earth that hold their bones": Collecting Family History, Narrating Dispossesion
November 2, 2009

Dan Usner, Vanderbilt University
Crafting a Traditional Community in Progressive America: Chitimacha Indian Basket Weavers, 1880–1940
November 2, 2009

Jane Landers, Vanderbilt University
The Material Culture of Maroons: Case Studies from 17th-Century Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico
November 16, 2009

Samuel Kline Cohn Jr., University of Glasgow
The Rennaisance Attachment to Things: Material Culture in Last Wills and Testaments
December 7, 2009

Lynn Festa, Rutgers University
Crusoe's Island of Misfit Things
January 22, 2010

Jonathan Lamb, Vanderbilt University
Owning Things
January 22, 2010

Dror Wahrman, Indiana University
The Collier Obsession: A Tale of Art and Illusion at the Threshold of the Modern Information Age
January 22, 2010

Sven Beckert, Harvard University
The Empire of Cotton: A Global History
February 8, 2010

Shigehisa Kuriyama, Harvard University
The Resonance of Strings, and the History of Being
March 15, 2010

Leora Auslander, University of Chicago
A Jewish Sensorium? Material Culture and Embodiment in Germany, 1890–1930
April 5, 2010

Julia Phillips Cohen, Vanderbilt University
The Stuff of Empire: Orientalism, Ottomania, and the Jews of the Levant
April 5, 2010

Lorraine Daston, Max Planck Institute fo the History of Science and the University of Chicago
Shmoo Fetishism: A Short History of Projection
April 19, 2010