Material culture research papers

Research papers on material culture, cultural history, history of collections, museums, cultural institutions and related phenomena.

Cultural biography refers to in-depth specific historical and observational research, such as on a particular thing, collection, object, material or commodity. The idea is influential in material culture studies which uses object-centred enquiry to frame new histories of people, places and crucially, their changing relationships. An antidote to macro economic and political histories, cultural biography is a method of investigation that critically engages as much in historical and contemporary sources as it does in understanding why those sources still survive and how they have been used. It is a useful and influential framework for any curatorial research project.

It is inspired by works such as Igor Kopytoff’s essay, ‘The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process‘ in: A. Appadurai (ed.) The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge, 1986).

“In doing the biography of a thing, one would ask questions similar to those one asks about people”

Igor Kopytoff, ‘The cultural biography of things’ (1986) p. 66.

Cultural biography of Grand Tour collections: fresh perspectives on British cultural heritage

This is Dr. Tehmina Goskar’s (née Bhote) 2001 Masters Dissertation which examines cultural, social and political values surrounding museum and historic house collections as they transitioned from private to public spheres in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It specifically examines the dominant cultural and ideological phenomena that shaped British cultural institutions, such as Neoclassicism, the Grand Tour and the Great Chain of Being, which introduced a hierarchy between humans and God, but also influenced the ranking of historical and contemporary cultures and civilisations, placing (white) British and European cultures above all others.

Citation: T. Bhote, 'Cultural biography of Grand Tour collections: fresh perspectives on British cultural heritage', MA Dissertation, University of Southampton, 2001.

Objects, people and exchange:
Material culture in medieval southern Italy c.600-c.1200

This is Dr. Tehmina Goskar’s 2009 PhD in History which examines material culture in a dual-study of archaeological objects and documentary charters from this marginalised region of the early medieval Mediterranean. It demonstrates the value of using objects as historical evidence to better understand shared affinities in human experience, while also challenging anachronistic categories of art historical analyses, e.g. Byzantine, Islamic, and so on. New readings of documentary evidence and museological object analysis demonstrate how the study of southern Italy’s material culture can place the region more centrally in the broader narratives of the Middle Ages, by showing what they had in common, and better articulate what was different.

Citation: T. Goskar, 'Objects, people and exchange:
Material culture in medieval southern Italy c.600-c.1200', PhD Thesis, University of Southampton, 2009.