25 Apr 2014 9:00am - 6:00pm CRASSH Seminar room SG2


Online Registration is closed now.
If you would like to be on  the waiting list, in case places are available due to cancellation, please email Lesley Steinitz (lh435@cam.ac.uk)
Conference fee: £15 (full),  £12 (students),  £5 (speakers)
Deadline: Sunday 23 March 2014



Michael Ashby  (Faculty of History)
Lesley Steinitz  (Department of History)
Michelle Wallis  (Department of History and Philosophy of Science)


Researchers from any discipline within the arts, social sciences, and humanities are invited to attend this one-day workshop which considers how ‘things’ can put a new perspective on the past. This workshop is affiliated with the ‘Things: Comparing Material Cultures’ seminar series at CRASSH http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/programmes/things

Over the past thirty years, the ‘material turn’ has reformed the way in which many historians approach the past, but attention to the ‘stuff’ of history has concerned archaeologists, art historians, anthropologists and sociologists for some time. From shoes to anatomical specimens, from people to paintings, from durable glass and porcelain to fragile fabrics and ephemeral foodstuffs, a vast array of ‘things’ are now subject to the researcher’s gaze, offering valuable windows into the experience of historical actors and the objects that mediated past social and cultural interactions.  

The recognition that material objects are worthy subjects of scholarship is the premise of the successful CRASSH Graduate Research Seminar ‘Things’. Now in its third year, ‘Things’ began life as a series whose primary object was the study of material culture in the so-called consumerist ‘long eighteenth century’, taking the format of regular sessions of two papers on related themes and/or objects presented by scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds. Today, the series incorporates a longer chronological span, but retains its original focus on the material lives of the past and continues to attract scholars of all stripes to speak on a range of topics.

Following the model of the ‘Things’ series, the workshop will be structured around a series of panels that focus on particular types of objects or particular thematic questions. Please see the programme.


This workshop has been made possible due to funding from the University of Cambridge History Faculty, and organisational assistance, administration and facilities from CRASSH





Welcome  (SG1)

Mike Ashby, Michelle Wallis and Lesley Steinitz  (University of Cambridge)


Keynote  (SG1)

Dr Spike Bucklow  (Hamilton Kerr Institute, Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge)
Thinking with Things



PANEL A: Selling Things  (SG1)

Naomi Lebens  (British Museum, Courtauld Institute of Art)
A World of Play: Printed Games in a Marketplace for Maps in Seventeenth-Century Paris

Zac Rose  (Dept. of History of Art, Cambridge)
Consumer Cosmorama: Buying a National Identity in Nineteenth-century Brussels

Angela Loxham  (University of Lancaster)
The ‘Stuff’ of Shopping: Women, Objects and the Sense of the Touch in the Shopping Environments of Nineteenth-Century England

Chair: Lesley Steinitz (Faculty of History, Cambridge)

PANEL B: Technological Things  (SG2)

Sophie Waring  (Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge)             
The Politeness of Pendulums in Regency England 

Megan Barford  (Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge)
D176, or, the Use and Advantages of the Double Sextant in the Hydrographic Office

Lisa Mullen  (Birkbeck, University of London)
Visions of the Uncanny: Cathode Ray Tubes, telepresence, and the Mediated Subject

Chair:  Katy Barrett  (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)


Lunch break



PANEL A: Literature and Drama  (S3)

Lili Sarnyai  (University of Essex)
Shakespeare’s Caskets: Prized, Chaste and Mortal Things

Richard Leahy  (University of Chester)
Nineteenth Century Light: Candles and their Associations

Dave McLaughlin  (Department of Geography, Cambridge)
Sherlock Holmes’s Things

Chair: TBA

PANEL B: Representing Things   (SG2)

Sophie  Pitman  (Faculty of History, Cambridge)
Dolled Up: The Dissemination of Knowledge of National Dress and Foreign Fashions in Europe, c.1600

Tillmann Taape  (Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge)
‘Fygures of styllatories’: The Material Culture of Distillation Depicted in the works of Hieronymus Brunschwig

Stefanie Wyssenbach  (University of Bern)
Food for Thought: Collecting, Trade, and Knowledge in Frans Snijders’ Market and Kitchen Scenes

Chair: Michelle Wallis  (Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge)


Tea/Coffee break



PANEL A: Materiality of Church and State   (S3)

Dr Elaine Tierney  (Paul Mellon Centre, Victoria and Albert Museum)
What Objects Tell Us: Designing and Making Temporary Structures for Louis XIV’s Entrée into Paris in August 1660

Rebecca Campion  (NUI Maynooth)
‘Splendid Delusions of the Lord Bishop of Derry’: Using Material Culture to Explore Hervey’s Architectural, Political and Cultural Intentions

Katie Tycz  (Dept. of Italian, Cambridge)
Ave Maria, Gratia Plena: An Italian Enthroned Virgin and Child from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Marian Votive Offerings          

Chair:  Mike Ashby  (Fac of History, Cambridge)

PANEL B: Cultures of Collecting   (SG2)

Alice Marples  (King’s College, London)
'The Joynt labour of several Ages': Hans Sloane's Collections

Sarah Mengler  (Dept. of History of Art, Cambridge)
Nineteenth-Century English Collectors of Australian Indigenous Art

Caitlín Doherty  (Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge)
Miscellany, Modernism and Performative masculinity: the Scrapbook of Winifred Penn-Gaskell

Chair: Sophie Waring  (Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge)


Tea/Coffee break


Keynote and Closing Remarks

Dr Katy Barrett  (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)

Chair: Sophie Waring  (Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge)

Abstracts and Bios

Mike Ashby (History, University of Cambridge)

Michael Ashby is a PhD student in the Faculty of History, Cambridge. His research focuses on the form, function and meaning of episcopal palaces in Georgian England. He is treasurer of Things and a co-convener of Thinking with Things.

Megan Barford (HPS, University of Cambridge)
D176, or, the Use and Advantages of the Double Sextant in the Hydrographic Office

Writing from Holyhead in the September of 1840, Frederick William Beechey, distinguished hydrographic surveyor, expressed his concern that a double sextant of his design had not yet arrived. He had been assured the instrument, which had been made at his request to take the place of one privately owned, had been sent from London. The sextant, when it did appear, was “a little shook” from being packed, not as requested, in a basket, but in “a box without dunnage”. The irritation at a late and shaken sextant, however, was surpassed by that at the inscription it bore. On the limb of the instrument had been engraved not just the name of the maker, Worthington, but a mark of public ownership, D176. This mark was part of a system to enable better management of the circulation of Office-owned instruments. This sextant, now held at the National Maritime Museum, was an instrument intended to facilitate the sounding of the Irish Sea, the maritime part of one of the most important routes in the British Empire. The sextant was part of a collection dispersed and moving between Naval vessels, agents in port towns, the Admiralty in London, being repaired or being held for future use. Surveyors worked in a context where propriety of property on public service was a pervasive question. The ownership and use of instruments in particular could be used to demonstrate the zeal of an officer or their institutional neglect. As a sextant invented by Beechey and made by Worthington, intended for use as private property on government service, an instrument used in a survey, it is an instrument that can be used to explore certain issues of sociability in and around the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty in the nineteenth century.

Megan Barford is a graduate student in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on genres of inscription in and around the Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty in the 1830s and 1840s. The research for this paper was begun during an internship at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, in September 2012.

Kate Barrett  (Royal Museums Greenwich)

Dr Katy Barrett is the Curator of Art, pre-1800 at Royal Museums Greenwich. While doing her PhD in the History of Science Department at Cambridge, she co-founded and chaired the 'Things' seminar series for two years. She has worked at a number of national and university museums, including the British Museum and Whipple Museum of the History of Science. She writes for Apollo Magazine, and blogs and tweets as ‘Spoons on Trays.’

Spike Bucklow (Hamilton Kerr Institute, University of Cambridge)
Thinking with Things

When thinking with things, you have to know what kind of thing it is you're dealing with. Or do you? A thing is an instance of a type of things and you want to avoid category errors such as ascribing properties associated with one type of things to a thing of a different type. Yet things can derive their value from simultaneously being members of different categories. Failure to recognise multiple category membership can impoverish the comprehension and appreciation of things. My talk will illustrate some aspects of 'thing-ness' in a late sixteenth-century portrait of the poet John Donne, now in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Spike Bucklow is the Senior Research Scientist at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, a department of the Fitzwilliam Museum, where he teaches the conservation of easel paintings. His research interests include historic artists' materials and methods.

Rebecca Campion
‘Splendid delusions of the Lord Bishop of Derry’: using material culture to explore Hervey’s architectural, political and cultural intentions

Material displays project a carefully cultivated image. Through the houses, collections and portraits of Frederick Hervey, earl of Bristol and bishop of Derry (1730-1803), this paper seeks to explore shortcomings in accepting the finished assemblage at face value. The example of the Earl Bishop cautions against a typical reading of the great house only in its final form, the last testament of its creator. This reading obscures the changing and developing aspirations, income and taste of the patron, missing the nuances of a life lived within and among these possessions. The Earl Bishop built a unique sequence of three great houses (two in his diocese of Derry and a third, Ickworth House, on his inherited estates in Suffolk); this paper proposes that the houses were built for different functions reflecting his changing political and cultural aspirations. Secondly the image the owner sought to project must be tested against evidence for how contemporaries received it. Surprising contrasts emerge between the portraits the Earl Bishop commissioned of himself and contemporary descriptions and sketches of his clothing and demeanour. Accounts written by visitors to his Irish houses became increasingly critical in response to the Earl Bishop’s political activities and later his absenteeism from Ireland. Viewing these houses, furnishings and artworks as evolving projects and exploring contemporary reactions, allows for a deeper reading of elite display. 

Rebecca Campion received her doctorate in history from the National University of Ireland at Maynooth in December 2012 with a thesis entitled ‘Recreating an Ascendancy world: the material culture of Frederick Hervey, Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry (1730-1803)’. She is teaching an elective topic on the Grand Tour of the eighteenth century at N.U.I. Maynooth. She has published ‘Consuming the Antique: Frederick Hervey and the translation of continental style in an Irish context’ in New Griffon, xiii (July 2012). She is a graduate of Newnham College, Cambridge.

Caitlín  Doherty (HPS, University of Cambridge)
'Miscellany, modernism and performative masculinity: the scrapbook of Winifred Penn-Gaskell'

Earmarked for disposal by the Science Museum in 2003, the scrapbook of Winifred Penn-Gaskell is an object whose contents have been described as 'mostly irrelevant' to her collection of early flight material, aerophilately and aeronautica. Among an expected collection of newspaper cuttings detailing the development of allied bi-planes, monoplanes and airships is a section devoted to nude and semi-nude photographs of Edwardian bodybuilders, wrestlers and athletes. My paper argues for the relevance of this apparent digression to a number of concurrent phenomena in the social history of flight before, during, and immediately after the First World War. By tracing the developments of the 'heroic pilot' figure, from a late-eighteenth century culture of sensibility and ballooning, to the muscular and hyper-masculine 'Ace' fighter-pilot, the appearance of the statuesque bodybuilders in Penn-Gaskell's collection can be contextualised. I will argue that the conservative sexual morals surrounding representations of homosexuality, and its repression, in the print literature of 'Physical Culturists' can be linked to the homophobia of  British early flight enthusiasts such as Noel Pemberton-Billing. The performance of an impossible ideal of neo-classical masculinity was a quixotic affair that highlighted the intimacy of homosocial relations among early communities of pilots and caused their biographers and plaudits public embarrassment. The scrapbook itself also refutes a simplified Freudian narrative of transference with regards to Winifred Penn-Gaskell herself, and demonstrates the sexual awareness of an ageing spinster who lived in isolation with her collection of ballooniana.

Caitlín Doherty is a first-year PhD student in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge, working on an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Science Museum. Her research is on the representation of Enlightenment flight technology in science museums during the twentieth century.

Richard Leahy (University of Chester)
Nineteenth Century Light: Candles and their associations

During the nineteenth century, artificial light developed incredibly. In terms of both the spread of its use, and the methods used to procure it. As such, the tools of illumination became objects of interest, and in turn developed their own associations as they sat in the web of nineteenth century illumination. The candle came to be seen in a distinctly different manner to how it was perceived before the advent of widespread gas or electric light. These trends may be seen in how the candle was manipulated within literary spaces, with similar ideas in the visual arts. My paper will focus mainly on these literary aspects, and examine how the candle began to gather associations and tropes around itself as an object in the works of Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens. During this period of history, there were taxes levied on candles, laws enforced against the self-production of candles and rushlights and eventually the mass-production of candles on a massive scale. The history of the candle during this period was fluid and evolving, the perception both of and by its light being affected by these numerous factors. In this paper, discussion will be largely based on the development of these perceptions; analysis will take into account not only the material object of the candle, but objectify its light and attempt to explain how it functioned in literature and culture.

Richard Leahy is currently researching and writing a PhD thesis at the University of Chester. Based on artificial light within the literature of the Nineteenth Century, it is expected to be completed by March 2016. He also currently teaches on the Approaches to Literature module to first year students at the University. He has spoken at the Gladstone’s Northwest Colloquium, and has a number of articles approaching publication.

Naomi Lebens ( Courtauld Institute of Art)
A world of play: printed games in a marketplace for maps in seventeenth-century Paris

A distinct genre of printed geographical games emerged in mid-seventeenth century Paris. These were made by professional geographers and sold in areas of Paris specifically associated with the burgeoning map trade. Typically modelled on the game of the goose, or packs of playing-cards, the games were intended to assume a didactic role and to educate their players during their use. Past scholarship has tended to address maps and geographic games as two separate categories of print. Games, in particular, are typically relegated to the sphere of peripheral novelties; where they have become the isolated focus of game historians, collectors and enthusiasts. In this paper Naomi will pay new attention to the wider social and material context of their production and use. First, Naomi will focus on the premier figure associated with geographic games, Pierre Duval (1618-1683). Among his wider output of maps, treatises, charts and tables she will establish the integral role his printed games played in the construction of his public identity as geographer-pedagogue. She will briefly outline their position on the Parisian map-market, charting some of the specific circumstances of their manufacture and sale. Naomi will then address the function of these games in context. Inscriptions on the plates frequently instructed/encouraged players to use the game-board to stage imaginary voyages; maps within the games familiarized players with their codified visuals forms; and ‘special rules’ incorporated elements of history, heraldry and contemporary politics into the play of the games. She will draw out correlations between these functions and those already associated with maps in contemporary society. She will argue that they were intended to operate as didactic ‘recreations’ which use the associated action of play to teach the information contained on the game-map.

Naomi Lebens’ paper is based on on-going research for an AHRC collaborative doctoral award between the British Museum and the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is currently in the second year of the project, entitled ‘Prints in Play: Printed Playing Cards, Board Games, Fans, Fire Screens, Targets, Masks and the Fashioning of Social Roles in Early Modern Europe’. Her focus has recently narrowed to printed games, and her broad research aim is to re-integrate them into the study of early modern print culture. In particular, she looks to focus on how they were used and their role as sites for social performances. The first part of her thesis centres on games with didactic functions.

Angela Loxham  (Lancaster University)
The ‘stuff’ of shopping: women, objects and the sense of the touch in the shopping environments of nineteenth-century England

The overwhelming conception of shopping in nineteenth-century England is one of spectacle and entertainment. Women, bored with domesticity, are characterised as having left their homes for the visual delights of the new department stores of the Metropolis, where all rationality and thrift was sacrificed at the altar of mammon. However, such dominant representations, by focusing on window displays, bright lights and mirrors, have tended to ignore that shopping was primarily undertaken to buy ‘things’. In a much-needed attempt to reinsert materiality into shopping, this paper rejects the dominance that has been afforded to vision, and instead argues that a woman’s contact with material goods was central to her experiences of shopping. Adopting a phenomenological perspective, it is argued that women developed a very tactile sensibility through their subject-object interactions at home, predominantly through sewing, music and homemaking.  With this forming part of a sensory body schema, they then transferred these skills to the new retail environments of the period. Using evidence from novels, artworks, periodicals and the trade press, I demonstrate that the possession of this tactile habitus meant that the bright lights of the city and her shops actually exerted less of an effect than has been assumed, because women used their shopping excursions to engage with the goods that they were buying, mainly by employing the sense of touch for assessment and judgement. This meant that, despite a climate in which adulteration and cheating thrived, women were seemingly able to exert some power. However, although this material interaction would, at first sight, appear to have given women a new form of autonomy, this paper will also briefly demonstrate that material interactions were recognised as being so powerful, that shop assistants were also able to employ a variety of ruses involving objects, to trick the female consumer, just when she thought that she was winning.

Angela Loxham is in the second year of a PhD on an ESRC 1+3 Scholarship at Lancaster University. Her research focuses on female sensory perception, most notably tactility, in the domestic sphere, and within consumer spaces during the nineteenth century. Her undergraduate dissertation has recently been published in the Journal of Historical Sociology, for which she also received a national award. She is currently in the process of preparing her MA dissertation for publication in a special issue of Museum and Society (due for publication winter 14/15)

Alice Marples  (History,  King's College London)
'The Joynt labour of several Ages': Hans Sloane's Collections 

Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) was many things: physician, noted traveller, natural historian, and collector. He left behind a mass of sources which can be used to illuminate a vast array of historical interactions and overlapping communities. His vast collection of letters, in particular, offer a physical manifestation of the various entangled relationships with which he was involved. They reveal not only the efforts he exerted in order to encourage the creation of knowledge by the collection of useful people and things, but also the multitude of ways in which people utilised his access to this knowledge. They also provide an insight into the shifting systems of cultural and social value regarding scholarship, commerce and collecting which spread across the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. This paper seeks to demonstrate the value of exploring such diverse material sources in context by highlighting the links between these communities and Sloane's collections, focusing on the social processes behind the production and exchange of medical and botanical knowledge.

Alice Marples is a second-year PhD candidate in the History department at King's College London and the British Library, as part of a multi-institutional project called Reconnecting Sloane: Text, Image, Object. Her thesis explores the cultural history of British Science in the eighteenth-century through the scientific papers and correspondence networks of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753).

Dave McLaughlin (Geography,  University of Cambridge)
Shelock Holme's Things

“Humans are attracted to Things; Things attract themselves to humans. If we follow the Things we will find the murderer.” (Three Bags Full, Leonie Swann). Sherlock Holmes may well be one of the most famous (albeit fictional) practitioners of “thinking with things”. For Holmes, clues take a particularly material form; his ‘deductive reasoning’ relies on “the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issues that may hang from a boot-lace” (A Case of Identity), which more often than not escapes the attention of his professional colleagues. Doyle’s focus on material clues helped to ensure the stories’ lasting popularity and influenced generations of readers to ape Holmes’s technique of ‘thinking with things’ (Moretti, 2000; Saler, 2012). As the primary source of meaning-making in the stories, Holmes marshals his things into place to form a coherent narrative: without things, most of his solutions would not be possible. However, these things would (and do) continue to function independently of Holmes’s imposition of order. Sherlock Holmes’s world is filled with objects that lead multiple lives – things that exist as clues to a crime also play roles in everyday life as photographs, statues or bootlaces. This paper seeks to explore the importance of things to Sherlock Holmes, as both material evidence and as objects in themselves. Holmes’s superior ability to ‘read’ or ‘observe’ the uncanny or unusual in everyday objects, to which Doyle’s readers aspired themselves, marks him out from the other inhabitants of his world. Is this because he possesses greater acuity of perception, or do the objects themselves talk to him? The latter hypothesis has greater attraction when it is realized that Holmes meaning-making, so important in bring each story to its dénouement, is often riddled with loopholes and precariously unstable (Bayard, 2011; Claussen, 2005).

Dave McLaughlin is an AHRC-funded PhD student in the Geography Department at Cambridge University. He holds a BA in History from Durham University and an MA in Interdisciplinary Australian Studies from King’s College London. His doctoral work focuses on the Sherlock Holmes stories, as texts and as objects in the world, as sites for, and sources of, mobility – imaginative, physical, social and cultural

Sarah Mengler (History of Art, University of Cambridge)
Nineteenth century English collectors of Australian Indigenous Art 

Art history scholarship has approached Australian Indigenous Art in a limited way.  The discipline has based the art form on the ‘turning points’, such as the ‘discovery’ of Australia in the eighteenth century and the emergence of the western desert art movement in the 1970s and 1980s.  This has the effect of marginalizing important developments that accumulated between them, especially during the nineteenth century.  Occasionally nineteenth century Australian Indigenous Art has been studied, but this has focused attention on a very small group of named artists.  This approach does not take into account the vast majority of material from this period, where the name and identity of the artist remains unknown. Collections of Australian Indigenous Art found in English collections can provide a way to ruminate on the idea of a nineteenth century Australian Indigenous art history.  This talk focuses on a section of this nineteenth century collection history. Specifically, it tells of Englishmen in the second half of the nineteenth century, generally younger sons in upper class families, who went to Australia to set up and run pastoral estates.  While on these estates they collected objects that were then donated to institutions in England. Within Australia these collectors have tended to be a source of ridicule, occupying the role of ‘squattocracy’, a play on the English word aristocracy.  In terms of Australian identity, particularly as it is portrayed outside of the country, these Englishmen were the antithesis of how Australia wanted to be seen. Instead, the association with the country to convict history remains strong.  However, these collectors spent the majority of their adult lives in one part of Australia, and therefore had a sustained experience of interacting with Indigenous Australians and thus make a significant contribution to understanding nineteenth century Australian Indigenous Art.

Sarah Mengler is a final year PhD student in History of Art at Selwyn College Cambridge.  Her work focuses on developing new vocabularies for historical Aboriginal Art. Following undergraduate study at the University of Southern California and University of Queensland, Sarah completed her Masters degree at the Australian National University in Canberra.  This was followed by fieldwork in Indigenous communities in central and western Australia.  More recently Sarah has held research roles at the University of Western Sydney and University College London.

Lisa Mullen  (Birkbeck, University of London)
Visions of the uncanny: cathode ray tubes, telepresence, and the mediated subject

The invention of the cathode ray tube in 1922 marked a key turning point in the relationship between subject and object by enabling instantaneous remote viewing. Over the course of the preceding century, the camera and the cinematic projector had already enlarged the scopic capabilities of the human subject on a diachronic plane by carrying visual imprints of the past into the present; now, live outputs promised to telescope space within a synchronic instant, carrying the viewer into a distant event as it happened. Arguably, the meeting point of viewer and image came to be experienced as a third, middle zone, inside the medium itself. The idea of being ‘present’ had escaped both time and space. This paper considers the development of telepresence in parallel with Sigmund Freud’s essay ‘The Uncanny’, published in 1919. His formulation of the Unheimlich depends on concepts which themselves uncannily duplicate the potentiality of cathode ray tubes: the displacement of objects in time and space, the prioritization of ocularity and the gaze, and the relationship between perception and deception are all crucial to any experience of the uncanny. As cathode ray technology found practical applications, it began to change the way vision was understood, impacting both popular culture in the form of television (first manufactured in 1934), and modern warfare in the form of radar (first implemented in 1936). Drawing on W. J. T. Mitchell’s work on the agency and autonomy of mediated images, my paper will argue that radar and television contributed to a technological uncanny peculiar to the middle of the twentieth century, and consider cathode ray tubes as harbingers of the new gothicism which found expression in midcentury culture.

Lisa Mullen is a PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London. Her thesis is entitled ‘Midcentury Gothic: the politics and aesthetics of uncanny objects in post-war British culture’ and her interdisciplinary research draws on object theories to examine the often troubling encounters between things and the people who owned, found, bought, collected or invented them, in the years during and after World War 2. She also currently teaches the ‘Writing London’ module on Birkbeck’s BA English course, and reviews films for Sight and Sound magazine.

Sophie Pitman  (History, University of Cambridge)
Dolled Up: The dissemination of knowledge of national dress and foreign fashions in Europe, c.1600

In Ben Jonson’s The Staple of News (1625), Pennyboy Junior asks his tailor: ‘I pray thee tell me, Fashioner, what authors / Thou read’st to help thy invention? Italian prints? / Or Arras hangings? They are tailors’ libraries.’ Pennyboy assumes that Fashioner ‘read[s]’ prints or tapestries for inspiration, but the tailor denies this – ‘I scorn such helps.’ How, then, were new fashion trends transmitted across Renaissance Europe? This paper first asserts that printed images of foreign dress were inadequate for the tailor, but were crucial for the maintenance of a state’s identity through established and stable ideas of national costume. It then suggests alternate ways in which fashion was transmitted. Dolls and people embodied fashion news in three-dimensional form, offering tangible material knowledge for designers and consumers. With reference to a doll from the Swedish Royal Armory, I propose that whilst much information – whether pictorial or verbal, in print or in person – was communicated by men who were more free to travel, dolls enabled female exchange of fashion knowledge by mediating female relationships, containing information about new technology and material, and embodying the fashionable wearer in miniature. Sophie’s research is firmly rooted in material culture studies, and draws upon literary and archival material. In tracing networks of communication about dress through prints, maps, tapestries, plays, letters, ambassadorial reports, and dolls, it becomes clear that Renaissance Europeans were fascinated by their own appearances, and by those of others. This interest was not about pure frippery; it was about understanding foreigners in an ever-expanding world and signalling worldliness. The implications of such a revelation extend far beyond dress history; they reveal the importance and limits of print, travel, gender-roles, international relations, and knowledge in Renaissance Europe. Fashion dolls illustrate that tailors and consumers actively communicated and thought with things in early modern Europe.

Sophie  Pitman is in the first year of her AHRC-funded PhD in History at St. John’s, Cambridge, supervised by Ulinka Rublack. Her dissertation, “Tailoring the city: the making of clothing and the making of London, c.1560-1660,” uses material, visual, literary and archival sources to explore the ways clothing contributed to the development of early modern London and, in turn, how London’s rapid growth changed the making, wearing, and meaning of clothing. Her methodology is based on interdisciplinary approaches to visual and material culture that she developed during her graduate fellowship at Harvard (2010-11) and her Master’s at the Bard Graduate Center (2011-13).

Zac Rose  (History of Art, University of Cambridge)
Consumer Cosmorama: Buying a National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Brussels

This paper looks closely at examples of cartes porcelaine, which are delicately engraved and lavishly printed promotional trade cards produced in Brussels from 1830 to 1860. By means of their technical sophistication, choice of imagery, and promiscuous circulation, cartes porcelaine provide a unique record of reception and reaction to the often shocking changes in the nineteenth-century urban landscape that touched all levels of Belgian society. Within the context of Belgian independence and industrialization, the paper investigates how these commercial calling cards mediated a crucial transformation in national identity during this period. It will be argued that the cards actively instruct the nouveau materialists of the recently created kingdom on how to cope with their transition from Flemish farmer to Francophone flâneur. Lithographed onto glossy lead-white cardstock whose similar texture to that of fine china endowed them with their name, cartes porcelaine mimicked the social conventions of private cartes de visite but were decorated instead with images of new industrial architecture, iconic city vistas, and important exports and were readily available to, and collected by, both the capital’s high bourgeoisie as well as its labouring classes. At the same time, by illustrating vignettes from the material-laden daily lives of Brussels’ consuming classes, cartes porcelaine make a very public announcement about this elite’s transformation into a modern leisure class that would now genteelly — and gleefully — pass its time shopping, lunching, promenading through a burgeoning capital city, and pasting cartes porcelain into personal scrapbooks. The paper argues that, taken together, the cards form a pictorial primer on what it now meant to be Belgian for all citizens of the new kingdom, ultimately disseminating happy images of Brussels’ economic interests, social values, and street-wise behaviour for the whole country to enjoy and adopt.

Zac Rose, PhD Candidate in the History of Art at Cambridge, researches how the culturally diffuse ‘new’ nations of nineteenth-century Europe were connected through mass-produced images collected by a wide public. By examining high quality lithographed advertisements produced in Brussels from 1830-60, his work assesses how access to affordable ephemera was key to the development of a shared visual language across Belgium. Prior to this, Zac was based in New York, where he worked with museums on strategic planning and communications. Zac completed his MPhil at Cambridge in the History of Architecture and holds a BA from Columbia University in English Literature.

Lili Sarnyal  (University of Essex)
Shakespeare’s caskets: prized, chaste and mortal things

This paper considers the material and metaphorical significance of Shakespeare’s ‘caskets’. It examines those containers, coffins, and bodies which, whether as real things or as images figured through language, stand within the texts, waiting to be opened (or filled, or displayed, or laid to rest). It will be argued that caskets in Shakespeare’s oeuvre, and in the wider cultural context of the Renaissance, have to do not only with the storage of possessions (as containers), with death and funerals (as coffins), but also, symbolically, with female bodies. From the ‘guiltless casket’ in The Rape of Lucrece, through the defiled yet still ‘glorious casket’ in Pericles, to the several and significant caskets in The Merchant of Venice, caskets, in this more corporeal sense, stand for, or structure, or (hope to) contain the chastity and virginity of women. The paper suggests that semantics and materiality are closely linked: that an appreciation of the nuanced meanings of ‘casket’, understood in etymological terms, can illumine our understanding of the multipurpose uses of caskets in the early modern period. The paper goes on to suggest, moreover, that delineating this functional, material versatility of the casket can help us better understand the thing’s symbolic valence and value in literary, but also, significantly, in socio-historical terms.  Only by examining Shakespeare’s caskets from several angles, through the lens of a variety of disciplines, can we begin to imagine, to reconstruct, their material significance. Consequently, the work of thanatologist Philippe Ariès (The Hour of Our Death), literary scholar Michael Neill (Issues of Death: Mortality and Identity in English Renaissance Tragedy), and anthropologists Victor Turner and Robert Hertz, amongst others, will form part of the critical debate to which this paper hopes to contribute.

Lili Sarnyai is a first-year doctoral student based in Cambridge. Her research examines ‘sleeping beauties’ in literature and in medicine: the changing representation, understanding, and cultural appropriation of women entranced, comatose, and (supposedly) no longer living. Wider research interests include the body, material history, psychoanalysis, and architectural theory. Her thesis is supervised by Professor Marina Warner at the University of Essex.

Lesley Steinitz  (History, University of Cambridge)

Lesley Steinitz is a PhD student in the History Faculty at Cambridge, where she is researching industrial health foods and culture during Britain’s Decadent Era (1880-1920). She is a co-convener of Things and of Thinking with Things.

Tillmann Taape  (HPS, University of Cambridge)
“Fygures of styllatories:” the material culture of distillation depicted in the works of Hieronymus Brunschwig

During the early decades of the sixteenth century, the Alsatian surgeon-apothecary Hieronymus Brunschwig published two instantly popular manuals on distillation. They were the first printed works to reveal in any technical detail how to prepare distilled waters, which had become popular medical remedies. Distillation required a plethora of specialist equipment, from furnaces to intricate glassware, which was difficult to make and use. Peppered with numerous woodcuts depicting the paraphernalia of his trade, Brunschwig’s work provides a rich source for exploring the material culture of early modern distillation. This paper explores how these images can be read and used by early modern adepts and modern historians. Being himself a guild member, Brunschwig was quite the connoisseur of materials and proper craftsmanship. Informed by his expertise, the depictions of apparatus serve practical purposes, such as giving the reader a visual template for what to buy, make, or have made by a specialist, and how individual components should be assembled. On a more intellectual level, technical objects such as distilling flasks could also be imbued with symbolic meaning. Used in philosophy-laden processes such as the distilling of quintessence, they became the physical battleground of alchemical concepts which were often reflected in their names and shapes. Finally, the paper considers the materiality of the images themselves. Brunschwig’s depictions of equipment illustrate how woodblocks could serve as modular visual tools to replicate, combine and manipulate images on the printed page to illustrate complicated technical setups and procedures. Tracing the images through different editions of Brunschwig’s works, Tillmann show how they were copied by different authors with different priorities, and how woodblocks circulated within and between printers’ workshops.

Tillmann Taape is a PhD candidate in History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge. He was an undergraduate in Natural Science, including a Master’s in HPS, at Cambridge.

Elaine Tierney  (Papil Mellon Centre)
‘What Objects Tell Us: Designing and Making Temporary Structures for Louis XIV’s Entrée into Paris in August 1660

This paper focuses on the commission, design and construction of temporary structures erected before Louis XIV’s entrée into Paris in August 1660 and shows how evidence of designing and making can challenge and disrupt existing scholarly narratives. Previous treatments of Louis XIV’s entrée have privileged, as evidence, the textual descriptions and highly finished images intended to show the event in its best light for posterity. In adopting this methodology, scholars have created an overly idealised vision of Paris as an early modern celebratory city. By contrast, Elaine’s approach starts from the evidence of objects, as used alongside archival evidence, descriptions in literary sources and eyewitness accounts, to reveal how the production of triumphal architecture and temporary viewing platforms for Louis’s entrée, rather than embody the ideal, was, in fact, characterised by fragmentation, collaboration, compromise and, in some instances, contestation. First, close attention to the evidence of the actual structures – their scale, mode of construction and the materials used – shows the extent to which the events constituted major incursions into the early modern city. Second, it illustrates the diverse social, political and economic networks that facilitated events on this scale. And third, it elucidates the various, sometimes conflicting, social and political ideals that were invested in a single aspect of the same occasion.

Dr Elaine Tierney holds a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, where she is preparing a monograph based on her doctoral thesis, ‘Strategies for Celebration: Realising the Ideal Celebratory City in London and Paris, 1660 – 1715’. This project was jointly affiliated with the Art History Department at Sussex and the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Research Department and was fully funded by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award. At the V&A, she has contributed to projects including the exhibition and catalogue, Baroque: Style in the Age of Magnificence 1620 – 1800, and the BBC4 television series, Handmade in Britain.

Katie Tycz  (Italian, University of Cambridge)
Devotional Things: “Ave Maria, Gratia Plena: An Italian Enthroned Virgin and Child from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Marian Votive Offerings”

A rare surviving example of a Central Italian polychrome textile sculpture, a fourteenth-century Virgin and Child currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art holds within its fibres an intriguing and mysterious history. The process of crafting this type of relief resulted in a hollow sculptural form which, when attached to a backboard, created a large cavity. Upon a recent analysis carried out by the Metropolitan Museum, a number of deposited objects wedged in this recess were discovered. These articles—a strand of pearls (a rosary?), pieces of elaborate textiles embellished with metallic thread and paillettes, and also bobbin lace—probably served as votive offerings to the Virgin and Child made throughout the centuries of the statue’s presence in a holy setting. As the intermingling practices of Imitatio Mariae, prayer, and votive offering developed in early modern Italy, the Madonna increasingly became a focal point of women’s devotion. While Marian devotion was not reserved for women, and male-dominated Marian brotherhoods also persisted, the various details of the Metropolitan Museum’s Enthroned Virgin and Child speak to a female audience. Combining a range of methodological approaches including material culture studies, art history, literary studies, and religious history, this paper explores the sacred nature of this sculpture and its shifting role as a focus of devotional activity throughout the early modern period. Utilizing prescriptive literature and similar sculptures in situ, its prominence and role within the sacred space of a religious building is considered. Further, an exploration of its material qualities along with the votive offerings found inside also reveal the ways in which the sculpture was viewed within its community as a miracle-working intercessor. Finally, the alterations and embellishments bestowed upon the sculpture over time demonstrate how eventually even the sculpture’s appearance became a focus of votive attention for devotees.

Katie Tycz is a PhD candidate at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, supervised by Dr Abigail Brundin in the Italian Department as part of the project, Domestic Devotions: The Place of Piety in the Italian Renaissance Home, 1400-1600, funded by the European Research Council. With degrees in Italian literature and art history (College of the Holy Cross, BA) and early modern material culture (Bard Graduate Center, MA), her current research employs interdisciplinary methodological approaches to explore upon how devotees, coming from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, employed objects that included religious phrases, words, or prayers for their apotropaic and intercessory qualities.

Michelle Wallis  (HPS, University of Cambridge)

Michelle Wallis is a third year PhD student at Cambridge, where she is researching drugs, the material culture of cheap print, and the 'public practice' of medicine in London, before 1720. She has a background in history and biology, and is a co-convener of Things and of Thinking with Things.

Sophie Waring  (HPS, Cambridge)
The Politeness of Pendulum in Regency England

Pendulums in Regency Britain had three main functions, as a gravimetric instrument, as a potential standard for the new imperial unit, the yard, and of course for the measurement of time. The variations between these three ambitions resulted in a schism in pendulum design in the late 1810s, as instruments started to be designed for the explicit purpose of measuring gravity, the imperial yard or time. The pendulum, as a newly designed ‘thing’, embodied this divergence in interests. By investigating the motivations and methods of men of science in this moment of instrumental design innovation, this paper will explore the contemporary attitudes towards time, corruption, precision and durability. Furthermore it will examine the way in which the pendulum was able to mediate the blurred boundary between private venture and publically funded activity. Particularly in the context of the measurement of global gravity variation, we see the constant negotiation between the Admiralty and men of science to secure the provision of instruments and officers, as well as the space and time to perform experimental work during voyages.

Sophie Waring is a final year PhD student on the AHRC research project: “The Board of Longitude 1714-1828: Science, innovation and Empire in the Georgian World” hosted by the University of Cambridge and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. During her doctoral research she developed an interest in material culture and co-founded the CRASSH graduate group “Things” which has seen two international collaborations. She has spoken during both collaborations at The Huntington, California and also at USC. Furthermore she is contributing to and assisting with the editing of a 2015 Palgrave volume, containing papers given at the “Things” seminar series and during several collaborative workshops.  

Stefanie Wyssenbach (University of Bern)
Food for thought: Collecting, trade and knowedge in Frans Snijders market and kitchen scenes

Frans Snijders was one of the most successful and diversified painters in seventeenth-century Antwerp. As probate and estate inventories of the seventeenth-century document, his paintings were widely collected by Antwerp citizens. But how were these luxury objects perceived and how did his paintings mediate the relationship between the private household and the city ‘outside’? In her paper, Stefanie will analyze Snijders’ opulent kitchen and market scenes not only as paintings showing an abundance of natural products such as food, but also as sophisticated commentaries on objects that were traded, exchanged and collected. Stefanie is especially interested in uncovering the visual-historical links between the sea as a gateway for maritime commerce and the city of Antwerp as an urban center. Although seventeenth-century Antwerp was no longer the world harbor it was in the sixteenth century, Stefanie will argue that, to the seventeenth-century viewer, these elaborate images of domestic and foreign fruits and vegetables, exotic animals and all kinds of marine creatures (probably more than ever) spoke to the physical and economic connections between Antwerp and the world. Furthermore, Stefanie wishes to show that these paintings not only point to an interest in trade and collecting practices, but also to a positively valued curiositas and to specific forms of urban knowledge. Geographical knowledge and knowledge about new comestibles and exotic animals circulated widely in the connoisseur-circles of the Antwerp elite and not only served commercial and personal interests, but also increased social distinction. Therefore, these paintings speak not only of the food potentially available in the city of Antwerp, but also of commodity and intellectual exchanges that once made the city so prosperous and which were in large part still present in early seventeenth-century Antwerp due to numerous contacts around the world.

Stefanie Wyssenbach Studies in Art History, Curatorial Studies, Museology and Sociology at the Universities of Bern and the TU Dresden (2005–2012). 03/2012 Master’s Degree with a thesis titled “Frans Snyders’ Marktserie aus St. Petersburg: Friedensallegorie und Bildenzyklopädie”. Since April 2012 she has been a PhD candidate at the Institute of Art History, University of Bern and member of the graduate program “Sites of Mediation – Europäische Verflechtungsgeschichte 1350–1650”, www.sitesofmediation.ch (funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation). Her dissertation project is: “Imaginationen des Wassers: DasMaritime in Antwerpener Stillleben ca. 1610–1660” (dissertation director: Prof. Dr. Christine Göttler).



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