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Materialized Identities

Materialized Identities

Materialized Identities

‘Materialized Identities’ is a interdisciplinary research project directed by Susanna Burghartz (University of Basel), Lucas Burkart (University of Basel), Christine Göttler (University of Bern) and Ulinka Rublack (University of Cambridge), funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

The Project engages with the agentive qualities of matter. It will show how affective dimensions in history connect with material history. And it will explore the religious and cultural identities dimensions of the use of objects and materials.

The project is embedded in a fresh perspective onto the material culture of the early modern period. We argue that it is important to address the vibrancy of matter itself, that is to say the ability of things to exceed their status as mute objects through their material properties. We will ask how, in a particular culture and emotional community, were interactions with particular materials valorised and which emotions did they elicit? And how did the interplay of matter and emotion shape individual and group identities? Historians of emotions have firmly established that each period is distinguished by different emotional styles, communities and mandatory regimes. However, the role of objects as constitutive of subjectivities and emotions has only recently begun to attract scholarly attention. By taking current debates into new directions, this project seeks to formulate nuanced accounts of agentive materialities in relation to early modern social life, politics and cultures. To achieve this goal, the project will approach ‘the material’ through four themes – gold, glass, veils and feathers – in relation to specific individuals as well as interpretative communities. These four types of materialities and object groups were each attached to different sensory regimes and valorisations which underwent significant changes during this period.

Almost everyone in late medieval and early modern society in some way lived from or experimented with transforming matter, through their labour, interests or quotidian practices. At the same time many of these societies were involved in a continuous struggle with materiality and its threats to societal order. A long-lasting conflict between tradition and fashion grew from these tensions, a conflict that remained unresolved throughout the Early Modern period. A crucial aspect of these insights is therefore that art and craft in this period was no frozen ‘tradition’ or just the realm of specific experts – the early modern period was a made world and a world in the making.