Material Culture in the Early Modern World - MT882

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Spring
View Timetable
7 30 (15) DR S Ivanic







This MA Module is a window onto the rich and diverse material culture of Early Modern Europe and the world. A primary objective of this module is to consider objects as sources, alongside more traditional textual sources, and to develop ways in which to use artefacts in historical research. The course starts with a critical overview of the way in which consumption has traditionally been treated by economic historians concerned with the quantity of objects produced and how they fitted into an economy of circulation and wealth. The main focus of the module is on a cultural history of things. Inspired by the 'material turn' and theoretical work by anthropologists such as Daniel Miller, material culture has more recently been used to answer research questions regarding the meanings things held for different people. Cultural historians, inspired by work in art history and museum studies, have begun to engage in analysing objects to evaluate the Early Modern world. We will explore how this has not only generated a diverse new set of sources to study, but also a new understanding of the agency of things in Early Modern society and a new way to access the everyday lives of people. Finally, as a group we will evaluate how things can make us question traditional historical narratives, which are often based on the texts elites produced. The main themes of the module allow students to explore objects in different contexts, from courtly collections to everyday domestic interiors, and to examine objects as carriers of meaning and agency. Furthermore, this module emphasises Europe’s place in a global world. We will see how the Early Modern period was a world of vibrant interconnections as a ‘New World of Goods’ flooded Europe. In working with extant objects, this module introduces interdisciplinary working with museum studies, art history and archaeology.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

The course will be taught by weekly seminars. Contact hours: 20

Method of assessment

Essay, 5,000 words (100% coursework)

Indicative reading

Appadurai, A., (ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (1986)
Brewer, J., and Porter, R., (eds.), Consumption and the World of Goods (1993)
Findlen, P. (ed.), Early Modern Things: Objects and their Histories, 1500-1800 (2013)
Gerritsen, A., and Riello, G., (eds.), The Global Lives of Things: The Material Culture of Connections in the Early Modern World (2015)

Hamling, T., and Richardson, C., (eds.), Everyday Objects: Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture and its meanings (2010)
Harvey, K. (ed.), History and Material Culture: A Student's Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources (2009)
Richardson, C., Hamling, T., and Gaimster, D., (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Material Culture in Early Modern Europe (2016)
Rublack, U., 'Matter in the Material Renaissance’, Past & Present (May 2013), 41-85
Smith, P., Meyers, A., and Cook, H. J. (eds.), Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge (2014)
Welch, E., Shopping in the Renaissance: Consumer Cultures in Italy, 1400-1600 (2005)

Exhibition Catalogues:
Ajmar-Wollheim, M., Dennis, F., (eds.), At Home in Renaissance Italy (V&A, 1996)
Avery, V., Calaresu, M., and Laven, M., (eds.), Treasured Possessions: from Renaissance to Enlightenment (Fitzwilliam Museum, 2015)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

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