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Visual and Material Culture

MPhil in Early Modern History - Options

Visual and Material Culture


Historians have based their enquiries on the interpretation of texts for such a long time that the importance of material culture and visual cultures has only recently come into their view. Objects such as clocks and paintings had a “social life” – they symbolised aspirations, relationships, or the wish to relate to particular dimensions of existence. Power, too, expressed itself symbolically through signs and architecture that marked landscapes and towns. Opposition articulated itself in response to them. Religious and political controversy manifested itself in different images, music and was visualised through clothes and emblems on them.

This course examines how we can analyse this rich reservoir of remains and produce original research based on it. It will introduce you to important approaches to the study of visual and material cultures in our period, and this year particularly focus on how a knowledge about how objects were made and what they were made from can inform our analysis of their meaning. The course will include a bronze handling session in the Fitzwilliam Museum with bronze expert Vicky Avery as well as an introduction to the reconstruction of historical dress in this period, with Hilary Davidson, former curator at the Museum of London and contributor to the recent V&A shoes exhibition..

Introductory reading

Baxandall, Michael, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy: a Primer in the Social History of a Pictorial Style, OUP 1998.
Burke, Peter, Eye–Witnessing: the use of images as historical evidence, Reaktion, London 2001.
Rublack, Ulinka, Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe (2010).
Ludmilla Jordanova, The Look of the Past: visual and material evidence in historical perspective, Cambridge: CUP 2012