Material Culture in Transit: an international conference (CfP)

This conference is being organised as part of the Doctoral research, "From the Sacred to the Spectacular", funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Further support have come from Center for Global Studies at the Graduate School of Humanities, University of Bern, Burgergemeinde Bern, and Bernisches Historisches Museum.

Prof. Michaela Schäuble ( My supervisor) and Prof. Thomas Späth ( Center for Global Studies) have been immensely supportive with this project from its inception.

Most importantly, my co-organiser, Samuel Bachmann. Curator, Africa and the Americas at Bernisches Historisches Museum with whom I have spent months of transcontinental skype meetings. We have only gone halfway with the Call for Papers and the conference website shall be updated more frequently from now on.

We look forward to having lively brainstorming sessions with our colleagues as well as experts in the field!

“We have to follow the things themselves, for their meanings are inscribed in their forms, their uses, their trajectories. It is only through the analysis of these trajectories that we can interpret the human transactions and calculations that enliven things. Thus, even though from a theoretical point of view human actors encode things with significance, from a methodological point of view it is the things-in-motion that illuminate their human and social context.”

Appadurai, Arjun. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, by, Cambridge University Press, 2017, p. 5.

Call for Papers

Artefacts are subject to, and actors of, change. What exactly is it that changes along the way of an object`s movement? Material objects of cultural and historical value encounter a history of drafting, production, use, dislocation, documentation and interpretation. All these dimensions of an object`s biography are access points to different understandings – and even epistemologies – regarding the question “what is transformed, when objects travel?

We call for an interdisciplinary brainstorming to allow for an exchange of perceptions on the narratives of an object’s biography structured by wide-ranging and somewhat indefinite categories such as “meaning and memory”, “space and time”, “causalities and contingencies”. On that note, researchers from Anthropology, Archaeology, Art History, and History are encouraged to submit object-centered contributions.

Which spaces has an object traversed, and what kind of transformations has it undergone or instigated through its voyage? How do different types of spaces interact with objects, given that the idea of “spaces” might address different realms of human life and knowledge production?

Abstracts anchored to the categories mentioned above may include (but are not limited to):

Material Culture and Religion

We focus on the materiality of religion and the modes in which religious objectives and beliefs have been communicated through, and sustained by, material practice. We pay attention to material culture as a crucial feature of religion following cross-cultural and parochial examples. These may signify physical structures, apparel, ritual artefacts drawing broadly from research topics from different disciplinary perspectives.

Museology and Representation

Museums have institutional power over transformations of meaning and memory, and play a critical role in the “politics of display”; this role calls for critical exploration of the responsibilities of the museum and the archive in creating narratives and establishing an object`s history. Here, the role of the curator seems to be critical, although the function of the curator might not only be limited to the museum curator but to all persons that fulfil the role of an artefact’s interpreter, be it on a subjective day-to-day basis or under scientific scrutiny.

Urban Transformations

Urbanization is understood as an agent of transformation of inhabited spaces of culture and identity. When it comes to the investigation of the histories of material culture, urban spaces pose additional challenges and feature specific characteristics. How are the transformation processes invented and expressed through the lens of urban morphology? Furthermore, serial and mass products seem to rid themselves of singularity and uniqueness, while in heritage studies and practice, these qualities seemed to be essential for the definition of an object’s cultural, social, or historical significance. Material culture and heritage in urban spaces therefore require particular attention.

Abstract submission

Proposals for contribution can be submitted via e-mail to with “Abstract Submission” as subject. In case your contribution is accepted, we expect to receive completed papers until the end of 2019.

• Submission deadline: September, 15th • Notification of acceptance: October, 15th

Submission requirements:

• Paper title • Abstract(300 words or less)

• Keywords(1–5) • CV(No more than 3 pages)