“Material Culture Studies and Early American History”

WMQ-EMSI 2020 Workshop Call for Proposals

In 1996, a special issue of the William and Mary Quarterly focused on material culture. That issue, “Material Culture in Early America” (Vol 53, No. 1), paid particular attention to relationships between physical objects and social and cultural history. In her introductory essay, Ann Smart Martin noted that despite the relevance of material culture for histories of everyday life, a rich tradition of museums relying upon artifacts to tell historical tales, and important works by eminent historians, “the study of material culture has remained a sidestream in historical scholarship.” The “material turn” of recent years might suggest that material culture studies is very much in the historical flow, a sidestream no more. But while many more early Americanists now engage with material culture, it is not clear that they take into account the field’s theoretical and methodological concerns. Instead, for many historians, engaging with material culture simply means adding tangible types of evidence to their work.

This workshop seeks to address both the current place of material culture studies in early American studies and the benefits of engaging with material culture not merely as a type of evidence but as a field of study.  We seek, in short, to confront the challenges of doing early American history through material evidence. We welcome proposals from scholars focused on a broad range of thematic, geographical, and chronological topics within vast Early America. We intend to assemble a group of scholars eager to engage with issues of disciplinary boundaries and boundary crossing; the intersection (or lack thereof) of material and visual cultural studies; the place of material culture theory and material objects themselves in early American studies; and examinations of how the analysis of material culture studies now informs a broad range of fields in early American history. Participants will attend a two-day meeting at the Huntington Library (July 10–11, 2020) to discuss a pre-circulated, unpublished chapter-length portion of their current work in progress along with the work of other participants. We hope to generate a lively conversation—theoretical and methodological as well as topical in nature—about both the history and the future of material culture in early American studies. Subsequently, the convener, Zara Anishanslin of the University of Delaware, may write an essay elaborating on the issues raised at the workshop for publication in the William and Mary Quarterly

Proposals for workshop presentations should include a brief abstract (250 words) describing the applicant’s current research project, an equally brief discussion of the particular issues they are engaging, and a short c.v. The organizers especially encourage proposals from midcareer scholars who are working on their second (or subsequent) major project.  Graduate students who have not defended their dissertations by the application deadline are ineligible. Materials should be submitted online by November 1, 2019.