Things on the Move - Materiality of Objects in Global and Imperial Trajectories, 1700–1900

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September 8, 2022 to September 10, 2022
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, World History / Studies
An International Conference organized by the German Historical Institute London in Collaboration with the Prize Papers Project 
Organizers: Indra Sengupta (GHIL), Felix Brahm (Bielefeld), Dagmar Freist, Lucas Haasis (Prize Papers Project/University of Oldenburg)
Venue: German Historical Institute London

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were defined by increased globalization, the growth of empires outside Europe, the emergence of global markets, and the establishment of colonial rule in many parts of the world. As recent scholarship has shown, an amplified movement of people - both voluntary and involuntary - and of objects in space and time was at the very core of these processes. This conference will focus on the movement of material objects and analyse the significance of their mobility in this period of great transformation.

Studying objects and their trajectories in space and time allows us to analyse how objects produce, carry, and change their meanings over time and in different situations. How did – and do - objects shape everyday practices and impact on events and structures in wider geographical and cultural contexts? Focusing on both structures and everyday practices, newer approaches like global microhistory create an awareness of how developments are interlinked on both a macro and a micro scale, especially with regard to the interconnected histories of material practices.

While perspectives on global materiality have become increasingly important, the conference aims to bring together perspectives from global history and the history of European imperialism and colonialism. Research on the structures of colonialism has typically produced microstudies, for example, of the production and circulation of commodities and objects. Similarly, debates about the restitution of art objects acquired as loot in the wake of European imperialism in Asia and Africa and now held by European museums have focused on the movement of objects across large parts of the globe under conditions of force and imperial control. However, the many complex overlaps between the production and movement of things at the intersection of the global, the imperial, and the colonial merit greater scrutiny. By focusing on the global, imperial, and colonial materiality of objects on the move within a common analytical framework, the conference will bring these partly distinct research fields into closer conversation with each other. It aims to bring together scholars to discuss the potential of a material history with global scope for investigating connections and exclusions, and for exploring the plurality of cultures, cross-cultural encounters, life processes, and exchange processes in contact zones in different parts of the world. Such a conversation, developing out of an analysis of material culture, has the potential to challenge grand narratives of globalization or European expansion and perhaps even to break down rigid epochal barriers and allow for a new periodization of world history.

The conference will analyse the significance of a global material mobility at a time of great transformation between the early modern and the modern period. It will focus on objects and their trajectories a) from a global history and from a global microhistory perspective, b) from the perspective of colonial history, and (c) particularly on their intersection.

Key questions

  • What everyday practices shaped the material global worlds of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?
  • How does a focus on objects and the study of global materiality alter ways of narrating the past?
  • How do we define the role and agency of objects in global/imperial/colonial contexts?
  • How did objects produce, carry, and change meanings and functions in colonial and global trajectories?
  • Can a typology—or multiple typologies—of objects and their uses in a global context be identified?
  • How did the meaning of objects change between the phase of globalization in the eighteenth century and the globalization processes of nineteenth-century imperialism and colonialism?
  • How did the materiality of objects and the values and meaning attributed to them shape the processes and conditions of exchange in contact zones?

They keynote lecture by Anne Gerritsen (Warwick) "Serges, Shagreen and Sea Cucumber: Chinese Merchants and Global Goods in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Canton" can be viewed online via Zoom. Pleaser register here.


Thursday, 8 September


Christina von Hodenberg (GHI London), Dagmar Freist (University of Oldenburg/Prize Papers Project)


Lucas Haasis (University of Oldenburg/Prize Papers Project), Felix Brahm (Bielefeld University), Indra Sengupta (GHI London) 

Panel 1 Commodities and Consumption
Chair: Ole Muench (GHI London)

Hilde Neus (University of Surinam): Objects of Women’s Agency in 18th Century Suriname: Clothing and Jewelry in the ‘Doe’  

Emma Forsberg (University of Lund): “Of the Finest Quality”
The Swedish Diplomats’ Role within Global Consumption 1710-1740

Artemis Yagou (Deutsches Museum Munich): Telling the Time on the Move: European Watches for the Ottoman Markets (18th-19th c.)

Coffee/tea break

Keynote Lecture
Chair: Dagmar Freist

Anne Gerritsen (Warwick University): Serges, Shagreen and Sea Cucumber: Chinese Merchants and Global Goods in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Canton

Conference Dinner

Friday, 9 September

Panel 2 Colonial Knowledge, Local Contexts
Chair: Indra Sengupta

Caroline Drieënhuizen (Open Universiteit, The Netherlands): Kubera in the klenteng: Collecting and the Coloniality of Knowledge in Colonial Indonesia in the Nineteenth Century

Coffee/tea break

Sarah Longair (University of Lincoln): Island Material Cultures: Mobility, Connections and Colonialism

Meenakshi A (Yale University): The Making of a Material: Cement in the British Empire c. 1830-1900


Panel 3 Institutions and the Afterlives of Colonial Collecting
Chair: Felix Brahm

Eleanor Harding, Emile de Bruijn (National Trust): Cataloguing the ‘Oriental’ in Domestic Collections within the National Trust
Mobeen Hussain (Trinity College Dublin): Tracing Silences and Silenced Labour: Colonial Extraction and Collecting Practices as Knowledge-Formation in the Academy

Coffee/tea break

Panel 4 Objects in Global/Imperial Connections
Chair: TBA 

Katherine Arnold (LSE London): Rendering the African Environment Material: Parasitic Plants and Human Remains in the World of Nineteenth-Century Natural History Collecting

Oliver Finnegan (The National Archives, UK) / Lucas Haasis (Prize Papers Project, University of Oldenburg)/ Lucia Pereira Pardo (The National Archives, UK)/ Andrew Little (Prize Papers Project): Objects in the Prize Papers. Global Perspectives

Talk and Opening of Exhibition

Maria Cardamone (GHI London Prize Papers Project)/Lucas Haasis: “Captured. The Materiality of the Prize Papers”


Saturday, 10 September

Panel 5 The Long Lives of Things
Chair: Lucas Haasis 

Christian Stenz (University of Heidelberg): From the Temple Ceiling to the Museum Wall. How the Tikal Lintels became Ethnographic Objects

Coffee/tea break

Yu Ying Lee (Yuan Ze University, Taiwan): Liulichang: The Hub of Chinese Antiques to Global

End of Conference

Contact Info: 

Kim König
PR and Events Officer
German Historical Institute London
17 Bloomsbury Square
London WC1A 2NJ
United Kingdom
(+44) (0) 20 7309 2033

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