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A Cultural History of the Objects

Less than a generation ago, historians would have been sceptical about the value of engaging with ‘objects’ or ‘artefacts’. ‘Material culture’ remained alien to historical studies and mostly confined to the realm of the investigation of the remote past or anthropological analyses of non-Western societies. The past two decades have seen a marked change of direction, defined by some as a ‘material turn’ in history. From brand new eBooks to the digitally exclusive A Cultural History of Objects reference work, as well as digitised museum objects and an exclusive Object Case Study article series, this featured content is your gateway into the study of objects and material culture through the ages.

Image showing Residential buildings in Hong Kong, China.
Abraham Bosse, A bourgeois school of girls in Paris (© Nikada via Getty Images)

A Cultural History of Objects

How have objects have been created, used, interpreted and set loose in the world over the last 2500 years? Over this time, the West has developed particular attitudes to the material world, at the centre of which is the idea of the object. A Cultural History of Objects brings together over 50 scholars to examine how the world of human subjects shapes and is shaped by the world of material objects. The themes explored are: Objecthood; Technology; Economic Objects; Everyday Objects; Art; Architecture; Bodily Objects; Object Worlds. Click here to read more and discover the cultural history of objects.

Image showing Gdańsk in the XVII century
Gdańsk in the 17th century, by Wojciech Gerson (© Wikimedia Commons)

Writing Material Cultural History

Objects themselves are not simple props of history, but are tools through which people shape their lives. Writing Material Culture History (2021), now in its second edition, examines the methodologies currently used in the historical study of material culture. In this chapter, Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello explore the material landscapes of global history, and the circulation of such goods across continents and global markets.

This image shows a wooden sculpture of a temple guardian: Misshaku Kongo (Agyo)
Wooden sculpture of a temple guardian: Misshaku Kongo (Agyo) (© TRijksmuseum Collection)

Discover Bloomsbury Cultural History’s Digitised Image Collections

Bloomsbury Cultural History provides access to carefully curated collections of digitised museum objects from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Rijksmuseum, and the Wellcome Collection. These rich and extensive digitized image collections provide a unique and invaluable pathway for students, researchers and instructors to explore the material history of objects from around the globe. This particular wooden sculpture of temple guardian Misshaku Kongo (Agyo) comes from 14th century Japan. Made of wood and traces of polychrome, temple guardians such as this are placed at the entrance of a temple to ward off evil.

This image shows Olof Fridsberg, Countess Ulla Sparre in her writing cabinet, 1760s
Photo: Cecilia Heisser (© Nationalmuseum)

Objects of Comfort in Swedish Country Houses

How were daily comfort and feelings of home created through objects and the display of interiors in a house? Which objects, both furniture such as beds or tables to smaller items such as tea and coffee sets or bed linen, were essential for a comfortable home in eighteenth-century Sweden, and how can we interpret the comfortability of an item? These are the questions explored by Johanna Ilmakunnas in this chapter from The Comforts of Home in Western Europe, 1700 – 1900, 2020. Using comfort as an analytical tool, Ilmakunnas uncovers how technology, architecture, objects and things influenced feelings of home in eighteenth-century Sweden.

Image showing a paralympic athlete in Rio
First Day of Athletic Races at the Paralympics Rio 2016 (Wikimedia Commons)

A Cultural History of Disability

To support Disability History Month 2021, Bloomsbury Cultural History is offering unrestricted access to the entire set of The Cultural History of Disability, an unrivaled collection that spans 2,500 years, exploring disability from antiquity to the present day. With contributions from over 50 experts, the volumes describe different kinds of physical and mental disabilities, their representations and receptions, and what impact they have had on society and everyday life.

The theme for this year's disability history month is 'Relationship and Sex. Disability and Hidden Impairment'. In this chapter from A Cultural History of Disability in the Modern Age, Bee Scherer provides an intersectional (queer-/crip-/trans-) feminist cultural-philosophical view on atypical bodies in the Modern Age, infused by Buddhist “theology”. To read more about the cultural history of disability, visit our Featured Content Archive.