Objects of Modernity
Centre for the Study of Cultural Modernity
The University of Birmingham, 23-24 June 2014
Confirmed Keynote: Dr Ulrika Maude (University of Bristol)
Conference blog: http://objectsofmodernity.wordpress.com/
What were the objects that shaped modernity? How did they function? Who created them, used them and reflected on their significance?
This two-day conference, hosted by the Centre for the Study of Cultural Modernity at The University of Birmingham and partially funded by the British Academy, seeks to bring together researchers from a range of disciplines in order to reflect upon a cultural history of modernity by way of its objects. This burgeoning field of study, which encompasses scholarship on material cultures, the history of technology, social theory and psychoanalysis and which has been pioneered by the ‘cultural phenomenology’ of Steven Connor and the ‘thing theory’ of Bill Brown amongst others, has spawned new, interdisciplinary research from literary critics, art historians, philosophers, sociologists and cultural historians. Yet this work has often not been drawn together in such a way as to reflect upon its specific significance as a subject of study or its relevance for more traditional forms of historical analysis. Answering the question of how a particular object should be read entails an assumption about its readable qualities and interpretive value. Reflecting upon the key interpretive tools that allow objects to become meaningful in this way will therefore be a fundamental component of the conference and, while the nature of the final panels cannot be predicted in detail, it is envisaged that several methodological or thematic strands will run throughout. These will include, but are not limited to:
- The Phenomenal. How do ‘the things themselves’ of phenomenology shape our being-in-the-world? How do they throw us into a world of cultural practices that make our experience precisely what it is?
- The Phantasmagoric. How do objects both display and hide their inherent traits? How do they circulate? Who possesses them?
- Obsolescence and Waste. What happens when apparently ‘modern’ objects become obsolete? What kind of an object is rubbish?
- The Materiality of Art. What kind of object is the book, painting or sculpture? How does its ‘thingness’ mediate the experience of art?
- Subject and Object. In what ways can human bodies (or their parts) be considered objects? How have technological innovations altered bodies and subjectivities? Are objects invested with human traits?
The approach of this conference is therefore both thematic and methodological rather than period specific. However, it is also true that the range of questions referred to above can be most effectively addressed when given some limited terms of reference. As such, the organizers are looking for papers that deal broadly with the period 1850-1950.
The second day of the conference features a research networking forum, generously supported by the British Academy, which will run parallel to the academic conference.
At this forum, we are seeking Early Career Researchers in academia, in heritage management and in the creative arts to talk about their professional and creative encounters with objects of modernity. The forum will provide an opportunity for ECRs working across different disciplines to come together to talk about the ways in which objects of modernity (physical, phenomenological, imagined) function in art, literature and culture, and will offer researchers a space in which the challenges of such objects (hermeneutic, methodological and curatorial) can be debated in an interdisciplinary way. ECRs from the heritage sector in particular will be encouraged to bring along information about their institutional collections, particularly in areas they consider to be untapped. The aim of the forum is to help unlock some of the resources, archives and collections of objects, things and artefacts of the industrial and post-industrial heritage of the UK to ECRs, and to help forge new professional, cross-disciplinary connections that will shape a growing and fertile field of study in the coming years.
We welcome all participants to both events at a reception and buffet dinner on Monday 23rd June.
Those interested in speaking at the academic conference should submit a 500 word abstract, together with a brief biography, to Dr. Rex Ferguson (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 14 April 2014. Those interested in presenting at the networking event should send the same information to Dr. Dan Moore (email@example.com) by the same date.